Space Shuttle Endeavour at the California Science Center

Space Shuttle EndeavourWe finally made it to the California Science Center to view Space Shuttle Endeavour, the youngest in the Space Shuttle fleet. The boys were sick when Nils signed autographs at the Science Center Halloween weekend, when the exhibit first opened. Nils flew one of the aircraft that chased Endeavour and the 747 on its trip to LAX in September. He carried a NASA flight photographer in his back seat.

On a rainy Saturday morning, the Science Center was crowded. Endeavour was doing its job of drawing people into the museum, which made me happy. We are frequent visitors, and I’ve never seen the place so packed.

To see Endeavour, you must obtain free, timed tickets. You can get these at the museum, though you risk them selling out, or you can print them at home or a $2 per ticket fee. When we arrived at 10 a.m., the only available tickets were for 3 p.m. Because the Science Center itself is free, it’s well worth it to print your tickets at home.

Your ticket admits you first to the “California Story” exhibit, which details the Shuttle’s birth in Palmdale, California. Viewers can touch the tires Endeavour used on its last flight. They can see a real space potty and kitchen and watch videos about how they work. These two topics are always a hit with kids, and astronauts will tell you they probably answer questions about eating and going to the potty in space most often.

There is also a mock-up of Rocketdyne’s operation support facility, which looks a lot like mission control. There you can watch and hear a launch on the screens.

For me, the time-lapse video showing Endeavour’s flight into Los Angeles and 48-hour trip through town to the museum was a highlight. The number of people who turned out for this historic event is overpowering. The video also highlights the contrast between this one-of-a-kind asset and the everyday of Los Angeles with views of Endeavour through a laundromat window, shots of it driving through streets lined with houses and , images outside a donut shop.

From the exhibit, you head to the Samuel Oschin Pavilion, a temporary home for Endeavour until a new building is built. Many years ago I saw Space Shuttle Atlantis in major modifications at Palmdale, and I’m not sure I’ve ever been so close. Visitors can almost touch the heat-resistant tiles. The Pavilion also is home to SPACEHAB, which the Shuttles carried to provide extra space to live and work, as well as a Space Shuttle main engine. There are video clips highlighting Endeavour’s missions. The outside wall provides details about each Space Shuttle mission.

You can stay in the exhibit as long as you like. If you can, go earlier in the day, because the line backs up and the exhibit gets crowded as the day moves on. And while you are there, don’t miss the EcoSystems exhibit and all the children’s discovery rooms.

Turning to 2013

Celebrating New YearNow that you have survived the end of the world, I’m sure you’ve given some thought to what’s ahead for 2013. I don’t do resolutions, per se, but I do like to set goals for myself each year, so I can measure my progress. This seems to come naturally at the end of the year when I’m getting my planner organized, transferring over birthdays, appointments and more. (Have I mentioned how much I love Levenger’s Circa system?)

2012 marked my real return to writing, after I joined Julie Hedlund’s 12 x 12 in 2012 Picture Book Writing Challenge. You can learn about my progress here. About halfway into the year, I learned that I probably wouldn’t be satisfied with the process of writing and revising picture books, submitting them to editors, and waiting six months or more for a yay or nay. It can take established authors 5 years or more to sell manuscripts this way, not to mention the challenges a new writer faces.

While I will still shop the picture book manuscripts I have and write those I feel passionate about, my goal for 2013 is to break into the work for hire market. Essentially, I want to develop a relationship with publishers, primarily in the education market, so I can get assignments. I’ve set my sites on a couple of SCBWI events that will introduce me to educational publishers. I’m also going to focus on submitting articles to paying and nonpaying markets in an effort to build up my writers’ resume and increase my chances. Again, I am sure this process will take a long time, but at least I’ve narrowed my focus.

I’ve also realized that I need a writing workshop to brush up on my writing skills. I took two half-day workshops this summer on creative nonfiction and writing leveled readers, but I definitely crave more. Finding the right workshop has proved tricky, since many children’s writing workshops are focused on fiction. However, I now have a few leads thanks to a discussion group I recently joined focused solely on children’s nonfiction.

On the personal front, I did run my first 10K in 2012, as well as a couple of 5Ks, including one with my Dad. I have more races lined up for 2013, including another 10K. And a few girlfriends and I have set our sights on Disney’s Tinkerbell Half Marathon for January 2014. We’re looking at some training programs and have stepped up our strength training workouts and run schedules. Oh, and we’ve already planned our wardrobe inspired by the picture below.

Have a blessed 2013 everyone!

Book Review: Taylor Swift: Music Superstar

TITLE: Taylor Swift: Music Superstar (Celebrity Biography series)

AUTHOR: Jeff Burlingame

PUBLICATION INFO: Enslow, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-7660-3870-7

SOURCE: Review copy provided by publisher

INTENDED AUDIENCE: grades 5-9

GENRE: nonfiction

OPENING and SYNOPSIS:

“Best. First. Youngest. Each time Taylor Swift’s name comes up in a newspaper, magazine, or online article, there is a good chance at least one of those three words will be included.”

This pop star’s 48-page biography chronicles her life from her childhood in Wyomissing, PA, through her 2011 “Speak Now” tour. Backmatter includes resources for further information, timeline, discography and a glossary.

THEMES/TOPICS: music, celebrity biography

WHY I LIKE THIS BOOK: Burlingame shows that much of Swift’s success can be attributed to her hard work rather than luck. Before becoming famous, Swift performed at karaoke, fairs and baseball games and became a staff songwriter at Sony/ATV to hone her craft. Now, rather than being a prima donna, Swift remains down to earth, using social media to connect with fans. Burlingame gives us many reasons to appreciate Swift as a wonderful role model.

RESOURCES/ACTIVITIES:

  • Enslow provides an educator’s guide with extension activities covering many school subjects.

Erik’s Choose Your Own Adventure

ErikBannerIf you have arrived in the middle of the adventure, you may start at the beginning by going HERE

Erik chooses to tackle the ooze:

Benton shook his head and snorted as they watched the bubbling black goop in the path they needed to follow.

Erik said, “Well, boy, I hope you’re good at jumping!”

Benton skittered backwards. Jumping things that looked like boiling cauldrons was not in his pony contract.

“You can do it, boy. I’ve got your back. Well, I’m on your back. That’s almost the same thing. Come on, let’s back up and take a run at it.” Erik tugged on Benton’s reins, and the pony backed up several paces, then started toward the obstacle, first at an easy lope, then at a faster canter.

“Up and….” Erik hoped they wouldn’t land in the middle of that horrid goo. “YES! We’re over!”

Benton slowed his pace. His heart was thundering as loudly as his hooves had been just moments before.

“Whoa!” shouted Erik. Benton planted his hooves firmly on the ground. He didn’t need any command. He wasn’t going any further!

In front of them was a dragon’s cave, complete with dragon. AND there was the black horse!

To enter the clearing, click HERE.

12 x 12 Blog Party

Today is a wonderful day to slow down and give your little ones an extra snuggle. A Christmas picture book is  the perfect excuse. If you need a recommendation, check out yesterday’s Perfect Picture Book Friday post.

As some of you know, I’ve been participating in Julie Hedlund’s 12 x 12 Picture Book Writing Challenge where we complete 12 picture book manuscripts in 12 months. Since I write nonfiction, this has been particularly challenging. Research is very time consuming and sometimes impossible from the comfort of your own home and local library.

Nevertheless, 12 x 12 is the push I needed to advance my career as a children’s writer. Here are some 2012 accomplishments and benefits:

  • Six completed manuscripts. Four are at publishing houses for consideration.
  • One book query, which I’ll send off in January after the holiday madness.
  • One magazine article query and a few magazine submissions.
  • A new freelance gig writing leveled science articles for BirdBrain Science.
  • An SCBWI membership and a handful of events and conferences.
  • A wonderful, supportive community of writers who have cheered me on throughout.

I didn’t exactly finish the 12 x 12 goal, but I did fulfill my goal of becoming a children’s writer! I hope to continue the momentum for 2013.

If you have an interest in writing for children, Julie is preparing for 12 x 12 in 2013. Find out more, here. 

Perfect Picture Book Friday: Llama, Llama Holiday Drama

TITLE: Llama, Llama Holiday Drama

AUTHOR/ILLUSTRATOR: Anna Dewdney

PUBLICATION INFO: Penguin’s Viking, 2010

ISBN: 978-0670011612

SOURCE: Personal library

INTENDED AUDIENCE: ages 3+

GENRE: picture book (fiction)

OPENING and SYNOPSIS:

“Llama Llama holidays.

Jingle music. Lights ablaze.”

All the watching and waiting for ONE DAY, sends little Llama into a tantrum. Will Mama help Llama remember what the holiday season is all about?

THEMES/TOPICS: Christmas, holidays, family

WHY I LIKE THIS BOOK: This is hands-down one of my favorite Christmas books. I tend to get overloaded during the holiday season with baking, parties, Christmas pageants and shopping. Occasionally I find myself in a Llama-like tantrum. This book always reminds me to slow down and give my loved ones a snuggle.

RESOURCES/ACTIVITIES:

  • Why not bake some Christmas cookies with your little ones and share them with family and friends?
  • Make some snowflakes and tape them on the window just like Llama Llama.
  • Llama Llama makes a candle jar. Here are some great gifts you and your little ones can make out of jars.
  • Anna Dewdney’s site has printables from the book.
  • Take time out for a snuggle.

Every Friday bloggers review “Perfect Picture Books.” Find a complete list of book reviews organized by topic, genre and blogger at author Susanna Leonard Hill’s site.

New Year’s Resolutions: Starting a Reading Habit

What? It’s too early to talk New Year’s resolutions, you say? Well, just in case you’ve finished all your Christmas shopping, decorated your tree, and baked

Your-Beth

cookies, I have found something for you to do. Grab a copy of Emma Walton Hamilton’s Raising Bookworms and consider starting a reading habit with your child in the new year.

Walton’s book provides some wonderful “how to’s” for raising children with a love for reading. She organizes the book around children’s ages and stages, from toddlers to middle school and beyond. Each chapter is chock full of tips and tricks, as well as her book list of “family favorites” for each age. She also includes a section of frequently asked questions and an introduction with arguments for why reading is important. A wonderful supplement for this book would be Vivian Kirkfield’s Show Me How!, which provides craft and cooking tie-ins for many beloved children’s books.

At our house reading has long been a part of our nightly routine. Each boy gets three books before bed. Sometimes a section of the LEGO catalog substitutes for one of the books, but as Hamilton says, you need to think broadly about what counts as reading. For my kindergartener, I read him two books, and he reads me one. Or he reads me a chapter from a chapter book. After that, he gets to stay up an extra half hour to read in his bed. This is a privilege he is pretty excited about.

We’ve always visited the library A LOT. And the boys are never surprised to come home to a stack of books from the library used book sale or a couple of Scholastic Book Order paperbacks. These are two inexpensive ways to build your library if you are just starting out.

I am sure many of you already have an established reading routine with your children. But, if you don’t, Raising Bookworms can help you start one. A big thanks to Beth Stilborn (the birthday girl) for introducing me to this wonderful book.

Perfect Picture Book Friday: Uncles and Antlers

TITLE: Uncles and Antlers

AUTHOR: Lisa Wheeler

ILLUSTRATOR: Brian Floca

PUBLICATION INFO: Simon and Schuster’s Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2004

ISBN: 978-0689864698

SOURCE: Library

INTENDED AUDIENCE: ages 3-6

GENRE: picture book (fiction)

OPENING and SYNOPSIS:

“Seven uncles, every year,

seven uncles travel here —

shaggy coats , scarves of red,

two tall antlers on each head.”

Join seven wacky reindeer uncles and their favorite niece in this adorable Christmas counting book. Whatever could those reindeer be up to?

THEMES/TOPICS: counting, Christmas, holidays

WHY I LIKE THIS BOOK: I happened upon this book at our local library while stocking up for our advent book basket. Brian Floca is one of my favorite nonfiction author/illustrators, and Lisa Wheeler is a perennial favorite (DINO HOCKEY, anyone?). This book is a fun way to work a little counting practice into the Christmas season.

RESOURCES/ACTIVITIES:

  • Lisa Wheeler offers a link to reindeer crafts on her site.
  • Older children might enjoy learning more about reindeer in this reindeer investigation.
  • Have you tried making some reindeer food for Christmas Eve?
  • How about singing “Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer?”

Every Friday bloggers review “Perfect Picture Books.” Find a complete list of book reviews organized by topic, genre and blogger at author Susanna Leonard Hill’s site.

And the winner is….

Beautiful Christmas TreeI’m happy to report that the boys each picked a charity for their donations.

Finley used the money from the “donate” slot on his piggy bank to buy two toys for children at the local domestic violence shelter. He picked out the two toys himself (LEGOs –surprise! — and the game, Operation) and paid for them in quarters. Then he happily put them in the toy collection box at our local YMCA.

Cooper’s school has been collecting money for victims of Hurricane Sandy, so when I mentioned that there might be people without homes or toys that we could help, he immediately latched on to the idea of helping people build homes. We first thought of donating to Habitat for Humanity, but I remembered YouthBuild. The group helps low-income youth ages 16-24 earn their GEDs and develop  job skills through work on affordable housing projects.  So, we matched Cooper’s money and made a donation to our local chapter.

Thanks to all of you who provided such wonderful suggestions for ways we could help this holiday season. Even though #GivingTuesday has passed, it’s not too late to work charity into your holiday plans.

Repost – Advent Idea: A Book a Day

This is a repost from last year, but I thought my book-loving followers might enjoy it.

I’ve wrapped up the books again, and the boys are eagerly unwrapping them — perhaps a little too eagerly. Finley unwrapped five books today! We have a planned trip to the library to check out some Christmas books and shore up our stash.

Enjoy!

Growing up, I remember our advent calendar held a small candy cane  for each day until Christmas. My brother, sister and I would eagerly take turns removing the candies (even though peppermint isn’t my favorite). We have a traditional advent calendar in our house now; each day the boys remove a different figure from a numbered pocket and velcro it onto the manger scene. Since Thanksgiving, my older son has been asking me if it’s December 1st yet, so he can start creating the scene.

Because this is such a special time of year, I’m always interested in new ways to count down to Christmas. My friend Nancy recently shared a good one: a Christmas book a day. Here’s how it works. Scour your children’s book collection for 25 books about Christmas. Don’t have 25 books about Christmas? Neither do I, so I also included books about winter and snow. For example, I include The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats and Katy and the Big Snow by Virginia Lee Burton. You can also visit your local library to supplement your collection. Just make sure to keep those at the front of the pile so they don’t become overdue! Also consider that booksellers may have Christmas books on sale during the holiday season.

Once you’ve amassed your pile, find a nice basket to hold all your books, and put it in a special spot, for example under your tree, by your fireplace or on a side table in the family room. Then it’s time to start wrapping! Pull out the wrapping paper, ribbon and bows, wrap each book and place it in the basket. (Note: You could use your recycled Christmas cards in lieu of bows here.) There’s nothing children love more during the holidays than unwrapping a present. Designate a special time each day (first thing in the morning or bedtime, for example), and let each child take turns unwrapping a “present.” Then you can all enjoy reading the book together. What a nice holiday tradition!