Kaigler Featured Speakers 2

Chris Barton

Chris Barton, pictured here at his signing table at Barnes & Noble, gave a wonderful talk on how important libraries and librarians have been to his writing. I am certain that if my sons were still young, I would know the text of Shark vs. Train by heart. And, one of them might have learned to read on it. Another cool fact about Chris is that he’s working on a PB biography of JR Lynch.


I think every one of us in the room wanted to be a student in one of Phil Bildner’s classes. He told us stories about teaching reading and writing through song lyrics from his favorite songs. When his students wrote to the band, Blues Traveler, one thing led to another until the lead vocalist and harmonica player was in his 4th floor classroom bawling his eyes out as Bildner’s students sang his song.
“I had a little big of an MTV unplugged thing going on.” Others included: the Fugees, Dave Matthews, and The Bare Naked Ladies.

deeedyCarmen Agra Deedy had us all in stitches as she related a story about her fifth grade year in a Georgia school without many other “foreigners.” My kids enjoyed her book, The Library Dragon.

halder presentationI attended a fascinating presentation on the work of Berta and Elmer Hader, a husband and wife team who won a Caldecott in 1949 for The Big Snow. The presentation was by Joy Hoerner Rich, the Hader’s niece (pictured on the right), and Karen Tolley. An exhibit of the Hader’s work is on display at the deGrummond Children’s Literature Collection at the University of Southern Mississippi.

dollI attended a presentation by Dr. Carol Doll (pictured above in the cap that helps her avoid migraine headaches) and Kasey Garrison on identifying excellence in informational books for children. They used the measures of excellence as identified by the Robert F. Sibert Medal given by the American Library Association. Dr. Doll served on the 2011 committee. For each area of excellence (language, visual presentation, etc.), Doll and Garrison identified two examples, one good and one bad. I was chuffed to see that Growing Patterns was listed as a good example of the visual design.

Another interesting thing Doll and Garrison talked about was LUCY, a database and center for professional development that focuses on multicultural books published for children. The definition for multicultural is very broad. Read more about LUCY here. Some categories include: Africa, Racially Mixed, Middle East, Central America, and Faiths & Religious Beliefs. It looks like a very useful tool.

nephew storyI visited briefly with Kalpana Saxena, a librarian from New Orleans, at Barnes & Noble and she told me a great story about how her nephew loves the Wolfsnail book she bought a few years ago and that he makes up his own stories about wolfsnails. I love it.

w Irene and quiltHere I am with Irene Latham, author of Leaving Gee’s Bend. She was among the bevy of lefties (others being Roger Sutton & Chris Barton) I sat among while signing at Barnes & Noble. Isn’t this a wonderful quilt? A school librarian made it from strips of fabric brought it by students before one of Irene’s school visits. Very cool!

Children’s Book Festival Featured Speakers – Part I

The highlight of the Fay B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival is typically the speech given by the winner of The University Southern Mississippi Medallion, an award for distinguished service in the field of children’s literature. This year’s award went to T.A. Barron, the author of 30 plus books. You can read a transcript of his speech here.
TA Barron
In addition to his writing, Barron has created a prize to highlight the heroic work undertaken by teenagers. Read more here.
Patty Gauch
During his speech, Mr. Barron recognized his longtime editor, Patricia Lee Gauch. Later in the day, she engaged in an interesting back-and-forth with Roger Sutton, editor of the Horn Book. When Gauch prevailed upon the librarians gathered in the room to keep standards up. He replied: “But it’s you people (editors) who need to stop those (poor quality books), not us!” Gauch is retired, but noted such terrible manuscripts never got by her.

Roger Sutton at his chalk board

Another of my favorite Sutton quotes: “Kids have always fallen in love with terrible books. But they can be led to others.” Led carefully, however. “In my fantasy library, no librarian ever says to me ‘if you like this, let me give you a good book.’ ”
David Diaz

This is David Diaz, a Caldecott-winning illustrator. He gave us a look at his process during one lunch session.

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audience 1
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Later the same day, Diaz spoke at Oddfellows Gallery in Downtown Hattiesburg about Golden Kite Golden Dreams, an exhibit of original art from award-winning children’s book illustrations.

david diaz at gkgd
Ellen Ruffin introducing Diaz
Claudia and Jo
The Southern Breeze region of SCBWI partnered with USM, the Hattiesburg Arts Council, and Oddfellows Gallery to bring the exhibit to Hattiesburg. Claudia Pearson and Jo Kittinger (pictured above) are co-regional advisers for Southern Breeze.
guests 2
SCBWI friends

Proposals, proposals, and more proposals

‘Tis the season to be writing proposals. I’ve participated and presented at enough national conferences to have gotten a taste for it. It seems that one national conference a year is about what I can manage while I still have three boys at home. Having done the American Library Association annual conference in 2009, the International Reading Association conference in 2010, and the National Science Teachers Association convention in 2011, I’ve decided to shoot for the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics conference in 2012. The deadline is at the beginning of next month.

Thusfar, I’ve checked whether my editor is interested. Yes, he is. Whether the publisher will sponsor the trip is still an open question, but his interest is enough for me to write the proposal. (Boyds Mills Press has been great about supporting my marketing efforts at national conventions.) I checked with three math teachers (starting with the math coach at my sons’ middle school, going next to the Algebra I teacher at the same school, and, finally, pairing up with a second grade teacher at my sons’ old elementary school).

The NCTM website has the information for submitting proposals here. The conference title is: Technology and Mathematics: Get Connected! I haven’t finished writing my proposal yet, but I plan to build it around using digital photography in elementary classrooms to teach math concepts. I am very excited to be working again with Beth West, a second grade teacher at Davis Magnet Elementary School. We’ve done Davis on the Map together twice and her students were early readers of (and helpful commenters on) Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature.

Great Idea for Summer Reading: One Jackson, Many Readers

Read here about a great partnership between Lemuria bookstore, the United Way, and Jackson Public Schools. I’m ready to help. I hope you will, too.

Fay B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival

As always, I had a wonderful three days at the Fay B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival in Hattiesburg. In today’s post I’ll just talk about my session: “It’s a Snap!” I talked about ways to use digital photography to get kids excited about reading, writing, books in general, and nature.

Sarah doing It's a Snap at CBF I shared some photographs of mine, some activities I’ve used with success in classrooms and libraries, and some photographs taken by students.

Hands on at CBFFor the final segment of workshop, attendees used their cameras (or borrowed mine) to take some photographs of some things I brought in for display.

camera talk

trying out photography

sarah tries to figure out camera settings

I very much appreciate the help I got from CBF ambassador Sarah M. Walsh, a graduate student at the University of Hawaii, Manoa. She took the photographs during my session and helped with set-up and take down.
Sarah M Walsh with Sarah Campbell

Here are some of the photographs taken by attendees using my cameras. Nice, huh?
wasp nest
nautilus red
falling apart log

If you were in the session and you want to share some of the photographs you took with your camera, please contact me via email here.

Growing Patterns on Bank Street List

The marketing director at Boyds Mills Press forwarded the news today that Growing Patterns is in The Bank Street College’s 2011 edition of The Best Children’s Books of the Year. It is so very nice to be included.

CBF logo On Wednesday, I begin three days in Hattiesburg for The Fay B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival. On the first day, I will present a workshop titled, “It’s a Snap!” It is designed to help librarians and teachers use digital photography to get kids excited about reading, writing, and books.

Each of the three days, I will sign books at the Barnes & Noble bookstore on the USM campus.

I always get to see good friends who are librarians, writers, and teachers. I look forward to this festival all year. I’ll take lots of pictures!


NSTA Annual Conference

I blogged about my school visits in the San Francisco area, but once I moved on to the NSTA conference, I stopped posting updates. There were a few reasons for this: First, I moved into The Palace Hotel and they charged for internet in the rooms (I still don’t understand why budget hotels provide free internet and breakfast and so-called luxury hotels charge through the nose for both). Second, I was working from breakfast to supper and falling asleep after a few clicks of my Kindle.

Boyds Mills Press rented a corner booth in the conference exhibit hall and my editor, Andy Boyles (pictured above helping M. make a Fibonacci Folding Book), and I were responsible for greeting conferees. Andy arranged display copies of all of BMP’s science titles around the walls of the booth. We set up a table in the front of the booth with display copies of Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator and Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature. I put out my two mini-quilts (here and here), some private eye loupes, a pinecone, a nautilus shell, a sample Fibonacci Folding Book, and a stack of my postcards. I’ve gone to two other national conferences, the 2009 American Library Association meeting in Chicago and the 2010 International Reading Association convention (also in Chicago). In those cases, I was one of many BMP authors and illustrators who signed books. I was scheduled for an hour on each day. This time, I was signing all day every day. We left the booth only for three presentations (two featured information about 2011 Outstanding Science Trade Books) and a lunch meeting. I met lots of interesting people — some who teach science to kids, others who teach teachers how to teach science to kids, and people who work with organizations that promote science education.

We sold all the copies of Growing Patterns that BMP shipped and could have sold at least a dozen more. It helped that many teachers had seen the feature article about the 2011 Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12 in Science & Children, NSTA’s magazine for elementary school teachers. Andy and I had a great time having lunch with current, former, and future members of the Outstanding Science Trade Book selection committee, including Suzanne Flynn, J. Carrie Launius, Betty Crocker, Steve Rich, Karen Ostlund, Kristin Rearden, and Juliana Texley. We also met Lauren Jonas and Emily Brady, who are on staff at NSTA and help coordinate the NSTA Recommends program and the OSTB list. We learned about the process and met some great people. Most of them seem to be on their second or third career. They started in classrooms teaching kids and then went into either administration or into teaching teachers at the college or post-graduate level.

They had stories about using trade books in classrooms. Juliana told me about the time she took flowers on an airplane so she could use them in a presentation about my book. They didn’t like the dry environment and shriveled beyond use. She had to hit a grocery store for replacements. One plant she bought was a peace lily (featured in the book to illustrate 1). When it was time to go home, she put it in her suitcase. “I threw some clothes away and made room for it,” she said. “It’s still doing fine.”

Right after lunch, I participated in a session featuring the 2011 NSTA/CBC Outstanding Science Trade Books led by some of the teachers at the luncheon. Other authors with winning books who participated were: Debbie S. Miller, who wrote Survival at 40 Below, and Seymour Simon, who wrote Global Warming.

The final session Andy and I attended was led by Seymour Simon and centered on the changes in children’s book publishing being driven by electronic devices. Simon and his wife, Liz Nealon, who has worked in many creative capacities over the years including with Sesame Street, talked about the growing numbers of children and families who have access to electronic reading devices such as Kindles, iPads, Nooks, iPhones, etc. Simon demonstrated how he has begun publishing some of his out-of-print titles in electronic format. His talk was very inspiring and I left there thinking about how I could get some e-publishing going.

I mentioned it to Richard when I got home and he’s spent a good amount of time this week building an iPhone app for Wolfsnail. How cool is that?!

SpringMingle’11: Part 1

I spent the weekend in Atlanta at SpringMingle ’11, a conference by the Southern Breeze region of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. The highlight of the weekend for me was my chance to “launch” Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature. I also enjoyed the other folks’ launches. Our region sure has a lot to be proud of this year.

Some authors and illustrators who launched books this year
photo by Sandy Fry
Lindsey Leavitt

Lindsey Leavitt

Our keynote address Friday night was delivered with good humor and aplomb by Lindsey Leavitt, author of Princess for Hire and Sean Griswold’s Head.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from her talk:

“The only thing in this business that we can completely control is the words.”

“Ask yourself: What is the story I want to tell and why am I the one to tell it?”

“Some things to home in on: emotions & feelings; experiences & memories; unique settings; complete randomness (things that spark your interest for no apparent reason. For ex., fog machines).”

“The primary relationship is between you and the page. The ones who succeed are the ones who keep writing and keep submitting.”

“Find what you do well. Stop trying to do what others are doing. Embrace the books that you are good at.”

Sarah Davies agent

Sarah Davies

On Saturday, Lindsey did a joint session with her agent, Sarah Davies, of Greenhouse Literary Agency.

Sarah began by relating what happened when she read Lindsey’s query letter three years ago: “I sat up. My boots came off the desk. I had this visceral sense that this person knew what she was doing. Her promise was borne out by the pages she sent.”

After they agreed to work together, Sarah sent Lindsey a six-page (“extremely alarming”) document with revision suggestions. Lindsey had to adjust to the revision process. “I thought revision was spell check.”

After revision, Sarah submitted Lindsey’s Princess for Hire to 17 American editors and 14 in the UK. In the end, Lindsey signed a 3-book deal with Hyperion in the US. The UK deal went to Egmont.

Sarah called Lindsey on a Friday afternoon. Lindsey was driving and had her kids in the car. Sarah told Lindsey to pull over. Lindsey: “I kept saying, ‘Shut up!’ ‘I don’t understand what you are saying.’ It was a surreal moment. It was delightful; it was life-changing. I wish I had a tape of it so I could watch it over again.” Sarah could hear everyone crying.

Katie Carella

Katie Carella with her conference angel Stephanie Moody

Katie Carella is an assistant editor for two divisions of Penguin: Grossett and Dunlap and Price Stern Sloan (PSS!). In her talk, she walked us through the development of a “homegrown series” titled Pete and Penny’s Pizza Puzzles. A homegrown series is one that is developed entirely in-house at a publisher. In the case of Pete and Penny’s Pizza Puzzles, the idea came to Katie from a friend. The friend had read an article in the New York Times‘ Home and Garden section featuring an apartment with puzzles and hidden clues.

Katie explained her three step process:

1) Who is my audience and what do they need?

She decided to aim for 6- to 8-year-olds, which meant the stories would need to be high-interest and fast-paced. She decided she wanted to reach boys and girls. She chose mystery.

2) What is the vehicle for my story?

She settled on 64-page chapter book series, which would be illustrated.

3) Is there room for my story in the marketplace?

She did research. A few similar series were Jigsaw Jones and Cam Jansen, but she had identified at least one way her series would be different: it would include puzzles that the character would need to solve. The reader would get the puzzles at the same point in the text.

Once she had the concept for the series nailed down and had gotten approval to move forward, she began the process of finding the right writer and illustrator for the project. She consulted her work-for-hire files. (In order to be considered for work-for-hire, writers should send a resume and a 5-page work sample. Illustrators should send postcards with references to internet-based portfolios. “Work for hire projects aren’t really publicized that much so you have to talk to each other. That’s how you find out about the opportunities,” she said.

She asked a few writers to audition for the series by writing a sample chapter. Carella provided a detailed outline. Illustrators auditioned by doing two sketches, based on a few paragraphs about the main characters.

Aaron Rosenberg won the writing job and David Harrington got the illustration nod. You can read about Case of the Secret Sauce on Penguin’s website.

I’ll continue the wrap-up tomorrow.

Why My iPhone Is Bad For My Photography

I am almost never without my iPhone. When I get the urge to take a picture, I pull it out and snap. This is bad for my photography because I tend to get crappy photographs and they are very low resolution compared to my Nikons.

lettuce sprouts

lettuce germinating taken with my iPhone

Here’s a good example. I should have taken the one-minute walk back to the house to retrieve a real camera. I could even have put on the macro lens. Then, I would have had a chance of getting these dicots in all their beauty. And, since they are the first seedlings in my garden this year, they deserve a real photograph.
raised beds

These are my raised beds. Richard and the boys built them three years ago. We had a great year the first year and a so-so year the second. I am hoping for another good year. I am using good seeds and starting most of them inside. Last year, we had a big flash flood that washed out the middle bed and took the wind out of my sails.
rain barrell

So far, all the water I’ve used has come from my rain barrel. I expect my water needs will exceed this supply, eventually, but right now it’s nice to be using rainwater.

One caveat on the iPhone photography thing. It has saved my butt a few times when the real camera I had along didn’t work for some reason — usually a dead battery. I had to use it to get photographs of classmates at a recent funeral and the kids’ MathCounts team.

Sarah with blue bottle

in Wisconsin

Guest on Read, Write, Howl
My writer friend Robyn Hood Black did an interview with me that appeared on her blog. She pulled a few obscure facts out of me that tickled some of my other writer friends. This photograph is a clue.

The photograph below is another clue.

I am looking forward to seeing my writer friends this weekend in Atlanta at the SpringMingle’11, the spring conference of the Southern Breeze region of SCBWI.

girls at store

In Mississippi at the old store

Growing Patterns named a Notable Book

notable stickerThe American Library Association’s 2011 Notable Children’s Books list is now final and I’m thrilled to say Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature is on it. Thanks, committee. I am so glad that librarians and teachers are embracing my book.

I’m looking forward to seeing teachers and librarians this spring at the National Science Teachers Association Annual Conference in San Francisco and the Fay B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival. I’m also adding dates for school visits.

growing patterns coverPlease get in touch soon if you’d like me to come to your school during the spring semester. I love visiting schools in days after state testing when students are really hungry for creativity and color … and someone who is NOT a teacher.

Check out my website for more information.

Cleopatra Rules! The Amazing Life of the Original Teen Queen

Vicky Alvear Shecter thumbnailToday I have a brief video of Vicky Alvear Shecter, author of the new book, Cleopatra Rules! The Amazing Life of the Original Teen Queen, published by Boyds Mills Press.

I met Vicky five years ago at an SCBWISouthern Breeze conference in Jackson. Back then, her first book, Alexander the Great Rocks the World (Darby Creek), was still an idea. We agreed over our meal that there was definitely room in the children’s market for a book on Alexander. Her son and my three would be thrilled, we knew.

At our most recent SCBWI-Southern Breeze conference, we sat down outside to talk about Cleopatra Rules! Vicky uses humor to good effect in her work. Her style is welcoming for young readers, who might generally think of ancient history as, uh, boring.

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Vicky has a YA novel in the works, too. Cleopatra’s Moon will be out in 2011 with Arthur A. Levine Books. I can’t wait for that one.

Check out Vicky’s blog, History With a Twist.