Monstrous Fun

On Friday night I had the privilege to attend the Premier Event at the St. Louis County Library Headquarters, featuring R.L. Stine and Marc Brown. R.L. Stine is famous for his spooky adventure series GOOSEBUMPS. While author and artist Marc Brown is equally well known for his ARTHUR ADVENTURE books and delightful PBS television series ARTHUR.


Leave it up to these two amazing literary sensations to combine talents and produce a frightfully fun picture book for young readers, THE LITTLE SHOP OF MONSTERS. The two friends explained the beginning of their teamwork. “We should do a book together,” Marc Brown said he had suggested a few years ago. R.L. Stine countered that comment with, “I think Marc had this inner monster waiting to get out.”

Picture Book Writing Isn’t Easy

R.L. Stine told the large audience that writing a picture book was hard work. He wrote and rewrote it—six times. Then he sent a text copy to his friend and Marc proceeded to draw right on the text! Here is a picture of one of the preliminary illustrations.


Mr. Stine said that he enjoys writing “scary and funny” stories. He’s excited about the upcoming Goosebumps movie (October 16) starring Jack Black as R.L. Stine himself.



Big Ideas

Mr. Brown described a turning point in his youth when he read his kid sister’s book, WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, and realized just how powerful pictures could be in helping tell a story. Back then, he was “a little kid with big ideas.” Those ideas eventually included creating the Arthur characters based on children and adults from his real life. His latest book is MONKEY NOT READY FOR KINDERGARTEN



The authors’ parting words for the evening were, “Life is short. Read great books!”BookPlate1

April News

April has been a busy, crazy, fun, busy, poetical, busy, bunny business month–and it’s not over yet.
So before it gets any crazier, I’ll share what I’ve been reading, doing, writing…

Who says libraries are just for books? Not the Lorain, Ohio children’s librarians! They are encouraging kids to explore their creative side in fashions with “Sew Lorain Kids.” A long time ago I worked in a couple of libraries in the Cleveland area. I’m so glad to see that the librarians there are continuing to be innovative. There are so many great craft how-to books in libraries, but why not give kids a chance to actually put the lessons into practice. My hats off to all of you in Lorain!!!

 I’ve been working on a variety of writing projects–one of them is an easy reader narrative nonfiction book on stars. So I was delighted to see a new book by Kathleen T. Isaacs which highlights picture books dealing with nature: BUGS, BOGS, BATS, AND BOOKS. Young readers–as well as their parents–often need help in finding age-appropriate books on various nonfiction subjects. This title also including science activities relating to various topics in the book. Look for this book at the library or ask your librarian to help you find some delightful nonfiction books to share with your children.

Kuddos to another librarian–this time with the focus on poetry. Thinking totally outside of the norm, Cathy Jo Nelson, a South Carolina educator, blogs about “The Unexpected Perks of Poetry.” She and a teacher collaborated on a poetry assignment–encouraging the students to create poems from words in book titles: spine poetry. Ms. Nelson elaborates in her blog about the many bonuses of this activity for both students and faculty. Poetry always seems to expand the world for us.

I’m writing the rough draft of chapter book with a poetic ghost in it. Although the story didn’t start out with a lyrical ghost, she just appeared out of thin air–so to speak. And who am I to tell her that she doesn’t belong in this story. I might be haunted for eternity…so I continue writing.

 Apparently April is also NATIONAL HUMOR MONTH. Although I was unaware of this, I have been reading some humorous picture books of late. A couple of favorites are CREEPY CARROTS by Aaron Reynolds and illustrated by Peter Brown. Here is a video by the illustrator explaining how he envisioned the sneaky carrots. My two-year-old grandson loves this books. We’ve read it over and over again. I’ve even made him his own creepy carrots with real carrots and a black sharpie. Beware biting into that next crispy, orange carrot! There may be many more lurking in the shadows–just waiting to pounce!!!

The other fun picture I’ve been studying of late is WHEN A DRAGON MOVES IN by Jodi Moore, illustrated by Howard McWilliam. The author uses the “what if” storyline to create an elaborate beach day fantasy complete with fire-breathing dragon. And the illustrator brings the creature to life with humor and charm, sure to entertain children of all ages. But of course, there is the dilemma–once a dragon moves in how do you get him to move out??? Rather like the moles in my backyard, I’m afraid. 🙂

So here’s hoping April is poetically humorous–and beware of carrot-eating dragons, or something like that!

Conflict and Tension

Today we had a break from the cold winter temps, so my dog Holly and I enjoyed a long walk.
But we’d barely made it back inside, when it started pouring rain.

Now if I’d been writing a story, this would have been much too easy a course for my characters. They took a nice walk and escaped the drenching rain without batting an eye. Absolutely no TENSION or CONFLICT.

In a real story, poor Holly and I would have been bent over double, battling the high winds. The thunder would have rumbled around us, lightening sparked. And of course, we would have scrambled and scraped to make it back in time–only to have been walloped with a downpour mere steps from safety.

A good story needs plenty of TENSION and CONFLICT. Here’s some examples in books I’ve been reading:

DIRTY GERT by Tedd Arnold. A young child adores dirt, so much so that she finally starts to sprout.

THE DARK by Lemony Snicket. A young boy is terribly scared of the dark, and one night it invites him into the basement.

FOG ISLAND by Tomi Ungerer. A boy and girl become lost in their boat during the fog. When they land on Fog Island, they climb the slippery stairs and meet an enchanted wizard.

Can you find examples of TENSION and CONFLICT in one of your favorite stories?
Can you write a story filled with TENSION and CONFLICT?

I think it’s quite fun to amp up wattage in a story. Give it a try. It’s nice for your characters to arrive eventually at a happy ending–but don’t make it too easy for them.

An Alligator at Story Time

A very courageous librarian in Whitestone, New York–Susan Scatena at the Queens Library–promised eager summer readers that if they read at least 4,000 books she would read to a real life alligator. Well, close to 350 students signed up and read nearly 5,000 books, so Ms. Scatena did what she promised.

She read “There’s An Alligator Under My Bed” to five-foot Wally, a female alligator–and to hundreds of amazed children. Wally made no comment about the Mercer Mayer picture book, but she seemed mesmerized during the story time. A good book will do that to a reader.

I must admit that I’m much braver reading or writing a story ABOUT an alligator than actually reading TO one. But my hat is off to brave Ms. Scatena. She proved just how important children’s literacy is to her. Hopefully, you’ll be just as committed in helping the children you know–or yourself–be the best reader(s) possible.
The library–at your school or at the public library–is always a great place to start. There are so many choices of interesting, exciting, funny books that you can choose from. And I bet you can find a helpful librarian there as well.
Here’s to COURAGEOUS reading!

Picture Book Woes

THE NEW YORK TIMES printed a controversial article recently about the decline of picture books. The article presents children’s book publishers and booksellers who note the drop in sales and an acceleration of young children toward chapter books.

Librarians were quick to respond. An excellent blog on the topic can be found at EARLY WORD. Blogger, Lisa Von Drasek, notes the importance of picture books in the lives of children. Picture books provide young listeners an exposure to higher level vocabulary as well as visual literacy. For a list of great read-alouds, check out this site, as well as more info on my website:

Read Aloud Wonders

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Reading Aloud

Don’t give up on picture books! Reading would never be as fun without these colorful, clever, WONDERFUL books.

Free Online Storytime at Barnes & Noble

Barnes & Noble this week began a storytime feature on its website. The first selection is Fancy Nancy: Bonjour, Butterfly by author, Jane O’Connor. In addition to the audio rendition of the popular title–complete with full-color pages from the book–patrons are offered a discount on Fancy Nancy titles for a limited time.

Each week a new book will be featured. What a fun way to spend some time “reading” with your children, or perhaps they will also want to try reading along on their own. For more information on this new B&N feature, you may want to read the article in Publisher’s Weekly.

Fun New Reads

Although it gets rather crazy this time of year, I have been able to read some new picture books. A few I really enjoyed–both for the stories and the illustrations–are listed below:

THE ODD EGG by Emily Gravett/ Simon & Schuster, 2008.
I love the softly drawn animals–who all have an egg, “except for Duck.”
Duck finds a special egg and proceeds to hatch it, despite the hoots from the others.
The book has some fold-and-reveal flaps which young readers will enjoy.
And when Duck’s egg finally does crack, everyone is in for a surprise.
ALL THE WORLD by Liz Garton Scanlon/ illustrated by Marla Frazee/ Beach Lane Books, 2009.
Even though this is not a Christmas book per se, its message is the Christmas message of “hope and peace and love and trust.”
This is a lyrical book, with an unassuming rhyme and easy flow, as writeen by Ms. Scanlon.
I was already a fan of the illustrator, Ms. Frazee–who I’ve had the privilege of meeting.
She creates lush pages, splashed with color and life.
This would be a sweet present to find beneath the tree for most anyone.
YUMMY: EIGHT FAVORITE FAIRY TALES by Lucy Cousins/ Candlewick, 2009.
I’m a fairy tale fan from once upon a time, and this new collection–written and illustrated by Ms. Cousins–presents easy to read stories with bright, bold pictures sure to capture young readers’ interest.
I shared this book with a second grade student, and he thoroughly enjoyed reading three of the eight tales–we ran out of time for more.
Too many young readers are not given adequate exposure to the richness and fun of classic fairy tales. Thanks, Ms. Cousins, for creating this wonderfully magic tale collection.
Reading with the children in your life is the best gift you can give them.
Have fun!

Pets and Authors

Mayra Calvani, author and animal lover, has a fun blog featuring authors and their pets. I know my pets have been major inspirations for my writings. In fact, they were interviewed by Mayra a while back. If you missed it, here’s the link on April 5, 2009.

But you’ll want to check out all the others as well at www.petsandauthors.blogspot.com. Today Donna Shepherd and her adorable Labradoodle, Sadie, reveal their secrets.
Try writing your own animal story–whether you have a pet or not. Invent a character, give the animal a problem, and send him on his way to solve the problem–and, of course, encounter even more problems along the way.
Here’s a quick list of some favorite picture book animal stories:
GOOD NIGHT, GORILLA by Peggy Rathmann (a wordless picture book)
IF YOU GIVE A MOUSE A COOKIE by Laura Joffe Numeroff
THE VELVETEEN RABBIT by Margery Williams
Have fun!


It’s been a busy summer already. Just returned from an international trip–I’ll share some photos later. But I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to tell you the good news.

HAMSTER HOLIDAYS: Noun and Adjective Adventures–the next book in my Pet Grammar Parade Series is nearly here. 
As you can see from the cover, illustrator Kit Grady has brought to life these adorable and entertaining hamster characters in her own wonderful, colorful style. 
You’ll meet Grandpa and Babe, Carlos and Jenni, Billy–who’s rather silly, and Lotty–who is decidedly spotty.
You can join them through a year of hare-brained holidays–sure to make you giggle. Nouns and adjectives are highlighted throughout the book. A study guide, activity sheet, and multiple puzzles are included.
HAMSTER HOLIDAYS is coming very soon in both eBook and print formats from Guardian Angel Publishing.

Children’s Book Classics–What Are Yours?

Parents pass their likes on to their children. Especially, their love of reading. Books they liked as children will be shared with their own children.

My husband and my younger son Dan love J.R.R. Tolkien’s LORD OF THE RING series. But children also introduce parents to favorites of theirs, which in turn become favorites of the parents.
Both my sons loved WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE by Maurice Sendak. And even now, I delight in repeating the line from the book when Max says, “I’ll eat you up I love you so.” 
This article at CNN.com discusses classic children’s books.
What children’s books are your favorites???