Writing and Illustrating for Kids 2012

All children — those who live sheltered, protected lives and those who face hunger, cruelty, and neglect — need to read about terrible things, according to children’s book author Donna Jo Napoli. If you visit her website’s page listing interviews, you can listen to her TEDx talk on the topic.

Donna Jo NapoliHere are some quotes I noted down: “I don’t think there’s anyone lonelier than a child who thinks they are the worst person alive.”

“It is very consoling to see that other people have problems. It gives you perspective. … When we write about terrible things, we look for the strand of strength in our characters.”

“From reading books, she (an unprotected child) can learn that with hard work and a good spirit, she can see that she can live decently in her own world — even if just inside her own head.”

“In reading, you step inside someone else’s skin. You live their life. You develop empathy. And empathy is the cornerstone of civilization.”

“There’s no better, no safer place to develop that empathy than in a book.”

“When it comes to trying to be the writer you want to be, I urge you not to be afraid of the things that bring high emotion to you. … We need to embrace our misery and learn how to use it.”

Napoli delivered the keynote address at this year’s Writing and Illustrating for Kids conference. Put on by the Southern Breeze region of the SCBWI and held each year just outside Birmingham, WIK offers workshops, critiques, and opportunities to meet and learn from other writers, editors, and agents.

Sarah at signing table

I presented two workshops: Stories + Photos = Winning Nonfiction and You Mean I’m Not Finished? Developing Marketing and Educational Materials. I uploaded two handouts for the Stories + Photos workshop on my website. Click here to see them. I created a Pinterest Board to gather examples for the Not Finished workshop. Click here.

I love sharing my stories in my own workshops, but the downside of being on the faculty is that it limits the number of workshops I can attend. I chose What Educators Can Teach Writers by Jodi Wheeler-Toppen and Trends in Award Winning Nonfiction by Julie Ham, associate editor at Charlesbridge.

Julie Ham

Ham led a fascinating workshop. We read excerpts from 10 Sibert Medal winning books and 4 Sibert Honor books. Based on these short snippets of writing (and, our own background knowledge of the books), we rated them on a continuum between traditional, safe writing to expressive, edgy writing. Making these judgments forced us to look carefully at the writing.

pegram and lewis

 Here are Sharon Pegram, the conference coordinator, and Keri Lewis, my angel during the conference.

Five Years Old and, finally, a Name

As my regular readers know, I am in the midst of a complete overhaul of my website. This means I’ve been consulting people and doing lots of looking around at what else is out there. In response to a suggestion from a marketing professional, I’ve decided to name my blog. Hereafter, it will be called Amazed By My Luck.

This comes from an Iris Murdock quote: “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one’s luck.”

I like the name, too, because it applies not only to the writing and photography in my life, but to the other things I write and post photographs of on the blog: my family, my teaching, my garden, my sewing, and my other crafting. And, as luck would have it, it was five years ago this week that I launched the blog. So, five years old and, finally, a name.

Not much will change here with regards to the name — until we go live with the new website.

New Homepage

homepage mockup

An Interview with Me

Starting today, you can read my interview with Alison Hertz, an author, illustrator, and toy designer. She and I talked about how I create my nonfiction picture books.


The interview is part of the blog tour for the 2012 Writing and Illustrating for Kids (WIK) conference, where I’ll be leading two sessions: “Story + Photos = Winning Nonfiction” and “You mean I’m not finished? Creating Marketing and Educational Materials.”


WIK is organized by the Southern Breeze region of SCBWI, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. This year’s WIK conference will be Oct. 20 in Birmingham, AL. It’s a great place to learn more about the children’s publishing industry, meet agents and editors, and connect with a supportive network of writers and illustrators.

Learn more about WIK here.

Read my interview at Alison Hertz’ blog.

Update on the New Website

Having killed my first (bad) idea for the new concept on my website, we have a new concept that we like. I’ll share it here so you can see what we’re considering. It is very different from what we did before, but we want to make it open, friendly, and easy to use. Do you folks have any thoughts?

mock up for home page re-designThe photo on the top right (a water drop falling) would change each time a person landed on my homepage, in the same way the header photo changes now. Each photo will be trimmed so that it floats in the space. We have already decided to change the color of the swirl.

Growing Patterns Featured in Book on Mathematical Literacy

I contributed a short essay to a book published this month that encourages teachers to use trade books in mathematics instruction. I wrote about how I conceived of, wrote, photographed, and designed Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature.

cover art for math litTitled Mathematical Literacy in the Middle and High School Grades: A Modern Approach to Sparking Student Interest, it was written by Dr. Faith Wallace and Mary Anna Evans and published by Pearson. (ISBN: 9780132180979)

My essay appears in a box in Chapter 5, titled “Picture Books: Where Math, Text, and Illustrations Collide.”

The authors contacted me in the summer of 2010, a few months after Growing Patterns was published and asked me to contribute. I am thrilled to be included in this book. The inside cover includes a chart showing how teachers can use material and activities in the book to meet Common Core standards for grades 6-12.

It’s particularly satisfying to have this book come out a month after I co-presented a workshop on Visualizing Math Stories at the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Conference.

Killing Your Darlings

On our morning walk this morning, Richard and I talked about the new website, and I had to admit that my idea is not working. In fact, it stinks.

sarahs workspace

Even though this desk is the tidiest it has been in years, it still makes an image that is way, way too cluttered for an effective web home page. Richard has worked long hours on coding, etc., to start to make it functional, but, truth be told, it was a bad idea.

So, back to the drawing board.

The time I spent cleaning up wasn’t wasted (it never is). I’m still getting rid of and putting away stuff. I work much more effectively when I’ve done a major clean-up. It helps de-clutter my brain as well.

Other work life improvements

I’ve started using Pocket (formerly Read it Later) to save things I come across on the web. Just like with Evernote, it takes some time on the front end to get it installed on all the devices I use (phone, tablet, laptop, desktop), but it is proving very useful.

I also read this article about blog theft that prompted me to take more security measures with my gmail. Once again, it took some time, but those of us who fully engage with the online world need to take precautions.

Another Step to New Website

Much of the day went in to clearing and cleaning my desk space. Our concept for my new website is built around my workspace. This is the starting photo. You’ll get to see it evolve.

desk workspace

New Logo, Website Redesign

Richard and I are working on a website re-design. We’ve decided, in consultation with our friends in marketing at Boyds Mills Press, that we need to make it more user-friendly and find better ways to highlight some spanking new content.

For a start, here’s my brand new logo design.

logoWhat do you think?

I am also spending time learning new tools that should make my work and home life easier. I am learning to use Evernote, an information management tool. I was introduced to the program by some of my writer friends in the Southern Breeze Region of SCBWI. I used it to some good effect this year while working on two curriculum development projects. I decided to invest some time in watching some tutorials to refine the way I use it. It’s been interesting, and I feel like I will be better able to keep track of the components that go into projects.

Growing Patterns will be on Touch Tonight on Fox TV

touch image Tonight is the re-premiere for Touch on Fox TV. In the episode which airs tonight, Arthur Teller (played by Danny Glover) uses Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature to help Martin Bohm (Kiefer Sutherland) understand the complicated, number-based way his son Jake (David Mazouz) sees the world.

During the show, I’ll be on Twitter, answering questions about Fibonacci numbers. Follow me on @campsarah or follow @Highlights.


Snail Hunting, Soccer Photographs

Update: I’ll be at the Mississippi Reading Association annual conference on Tuesday, speaking about Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator and Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature, and contributing to a session on making the most of school visits.

The weather warmed up this weekend. It was beautiful for soccer on Saturday and perfect for snail hunting on Sunday. I have a wolfsnail right now that I’m keeping for some video and school visits so I need to keep it fed. I spent about 20 minutes pulling weeds and dead impatiens from my butterfly garden and I found about 25 garden snails. After I washed the two snail containers with rainwater from my rain barrel, I fed the wolfsnail. It ate a garden snail and a slug. Yum! I wish I had had time for video, but we were also cooking meals for the week.

We took about 840 photographs during three soccer games on Saturday. I went through carefully today and flagged 115. It will take some time to get all those processed, but I am posting a few of my favorites today.

Zach flyingThis is Zach in the midst of a shot.

Jada Jayda in a warm-up boot.
Austin in stepAustin and a defender in step, with Judson behind.
EmilyEmily setting up a shot.