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!

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.

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!

It’s #GivingTuesday

On the heels of Black Friday and Cyber Monday comes #GivingTuesday, an effort to remind us to be charitable this holiday season. Giving to others is an important message for children, especially this time of year when they are bombarded with TV commercials and toy catalogs. (Though I have to admit even I have fun looking at those toy catalogs.)

Our boys each get an allowance, with a portion going to saving, spending and donating. A lot of their donations go to church, but there is still plenty in their piggy banks to do some holiday giving, especially if my husband and I match their funds. I’m not sure what they’ll decide to do: buy a toy for a toy drive, donate for a holiday meal at the food bank or something that they come up with on their own. I’ll keep you posted.

I’m still open to ideas. Do you include giving as part of your holiday routine? If so, where do your children enjoy giving?

Thankful turkeys

My little turkeys are thankful for many things this year: mostly LEGOs, chocolate and their stuffed animals. Sigh. At least they are honest.

In an effort to infuse some gratitude into the Thanksgiving season, we built these “thankful turkeys” out of pinecones. We will add a new feather each day (for five total) with things we are thankful for.

To build these turkey’s here’s what you’ll need:

  • Pinecone
  • Construction paper: brown, orange, red
  • School glue
  • Black marker
  • Googlie eyes (optional)

Here’s what you do:

  • Cut turkey body by tracing a figure eight on the brown construction paper. Make the lower circle (body) larger than the upper circle (head).
  • Using orange paper, cut a triangular beak. Cut a couple of oval-shaped orange feathers while you are at it.
  • Using red paper, cut a waddle. Cut a couple of red feathers too.
  • Glue waddle, then beak to the turkey’s head. Add eyes using marker or googlie eyes if you have them.
  • Write things you are thankful for on each feather, one item per feather.
  • Lay pinecone on its side. Glue turkey body to short, pointy end of the pinecone. Glue feathers to wide base of pinecone.

These make a great centerpiece. We’ll be using them to decorate the kids’ table. Now if only we can get some non-material items listed on those feathers…

Bouquet Card Craft

This bouquet card is so versatile. We recently made it for Grandparents’ Day, but it also works for Mother’s Day, birthdays, teachers’ gifts, you name it!

I adapted the craft from FamilyFun Magazine, replacing the card stock stems with green pipe cleaners. We’ve made the card before with card stock stems, but they weren’t strong enough to support the blooms. You can find step-by-step instructions….here.

We used this template for the flowers, but you can design them any way you like.

Our barely-visible wording says, “A bouquet for Grandparents’ Day!” The FamilyFun site also suggests several alternate greetings for other occasions. Enjoy!

The Curious Kids’ First Day of School

Today was the first day of school. It was a day of new beginnings. Cooper started kindergarten. Finley started preschool. Both were at a new school.

I made a new start too. Today is the first day I spent more than a few stolen minutes on my writing. To date writing has been confined to nap time, after-bed time, when-the-kids-are-otherwise-occupied time.

Now I have some “me time,” three mornings a week, 12 whole hours. I’ll be able to hole up in the library or the bookstore, draft my freelance articles, write manuscripts and shop those manuscripts to publishers.

I relished my first day. After drop off and first day of school activities, I headed to the library with coffee in hand. Before the library opened, I had nearly completed an article for BirdBrain Science while perched on a park bench. Once inside I picked up some children’s books — inspiration and information for two leveled readers I’ll work on tomorrow. All-in-all it was a productive morning. I can’t wait until tomorrow!

You rule, Dad!

Front of card
Inside view

Yes, I love a good, homemade card. This one was inspired by FamilyFun, one of my favorite sources for crafts and cards. Their version was three-dimensional, and required a mac ‘n cheese box. It’s a really cool “card,” but not conducive to mailing. I adapted the concept into a 2D version.

Here’s what you need:

  • One sheet black construction paper (8 1/2 x 11)
  • One sheet yellow construction paper
  • One sheet white paper
  • Gluestick
  • Scissors
  • Sharpie
  • Ruler

What you do:

  • Fold the black paper in half, placing short side together; then fold in half the other way.
  • Cut a 1-inch wide strip of yellow paper along the long side, creating an 11-inch-long strip
  • Write “You rule, Dad!” in the center of the strip. Then make hash marks at one-inch intervals to resemble a tape measure.
  • Glue this strip inside the card, along the bottom edge, then fold the strip a couple of times until it’s hidden inside the closed card.
  • Cut a small square from the white paper (approx. 4 x 4 inches) and have the children sign their names. Glue this above the yellow strip inside the card.
  • Cut out a geometric shape from the yellow paper. We made a house-like shape. Then write “tape measure” on it. Center the shape on the front of the card and glue.
  • Insert into envelope, and you are ready to go!

Happy Father’s Day to all you dads out there!