Looking Ahead to 2017

It’s hard to believe it’s been nearly six years since I left the International Literacy Association to pursue my second “dream job” as a children’s book author and freelance writer/editor. I’ve found this new career exhilarating, challenging, and immensely rewarding. I’m up to 32 published books for children and young adults, with more on the way. I’ve found a niche doing elementary-level history and social studies titles for Capstone, an educational publisher. In 2016 I had books come out about the Civil War, the War of 1812, the Pennsylvania Colony, Explorers and Native Americans, People and Places of the Northeast Region of the U.S., and People and Places of the Southeast Region of the U.S. There are at least five other Capstone books in various stages of production, and I hope to write more in the year ahead.

This past year also marked the release of my second self-published book through my new First State Press imprint. I partnered with award-winning photographer Lisa Goodman to produce Beach Fun: Poems of Surf and Sand, a book designed to appeal to beach loves ages 4 to 84. Lisa and I made several trips to the beach to do signings at bookstores and events. We hope to make another big push before summer 2017.

Editorial Consulting

I’ve also had an opportunity to do some interesting writing/editing work that takes advantage of my long background in literacy education. I do communications work for Read to Them, a nonprofit organization that builds family literacy and reading interest by getting all the elementary families from a school or school district reading and discussing the same children’s book at the same time. Hundreds of schools throughout the United States and Canada participate in One School, One Book and One District, One Book programs.

This past year, I reconnected with Sakil Malik, a former colleague from ILA who now heads the Global Reading Network. Since June, I’ve been editing their online newsletter, organizing blog posts, and doing a variety of other writing and editing assignments. The Global Reading Network specializes in providing information and support for early grade reading in developing countries. I’ve really enjoyed this work, too!

Working with Students

I love working with young students and sharing my writing with them. In 2016 I made multiple visits to Newark Charter Elementary School, talking to third graders about writing nonfiction and poetry. I also did visits or readings at John Bassett Moore Intermediate School in Smyrna, Mt. Pleasant Elementary School, William Cooke Jr. Elementary School, and ASPIRA Academy in Delaware and at the Penn-Delco School District in Pennsylvania.

For 2017, I already have return visits scheduled at Newark Charter, along with day or evening programs at Newark Day Nursery and Wilmington Manor Elementary School. I am also in discussion with other schools, and I hope to add some more school visits over the course of the year.

“Counting” on Success

I’m really excited about a counting picture book I have coming out in September 2017. Titled One Leaf, Two Leaves, Count With Me, the book allows children to count along as leaves sprout on a tree in the spring and fall off in the fall. It concludes by showing new leaves once again budding on the tree the following spring. I am “counting” on the combination of counting and seasons making this book popular both in schools and homes.

One Leaf, Two Leaves will be published by Penguin. This is my first time with a “Big Five” publisher, and I’m thrilled. Specifically, the book is part of the prestigious Nancy Paulsen imprint. Nancy publishes authors and illustrators such as Jacqueline Woodson, Tomie de Paola, E. B. Lewis, and David Ezra Stein. The advance teaser for One Leaf, Two Leaves on the Penguin website says: “Count your way through the seasons!.… As little ones count leaves, look for animals, and enjoy the changing seasonal landscape, bouncy rhymes and bold illustrations make learning to count easy—corresponding numerals reinforcing the learning fun.”

The book is illustrated by Clive McFarland, a talented young artist from Northern Ireland. When Nancy showed me samples from his book A Bed for Bear, I could tell immediately that his style was perfect for One Leaf, Two Leaves, Count With Me. The preliminary sketches bowled me over, and the almost-finished book is stunning.

The book came to me in a flash during a writer’s retreat sponsored by the Highlights Foundation in the fall of 2014. As I watched the final two leaves hanging onto a tree branch, these lines popped into my head: “One leaf, two leaves on a tree. Three leaves, four leaves, count with me.” I literally ran back to my cabin, and by that evening I had the text roughed out. This marked one of the handful of times in my life when I truly felt the magic of the muse, and I feel truly blessed with the result.

Watch for further updates about One Leaf, Two Leaves, Count With Me in the months to come—along with other writing news. I think 2017 will be a banner year!

 

Beach season is finally here! First State Press’s newest book, Beach Fun: Poems of Surf and Sand, pairs my poetry with gorgeous photographs by Lisa Joy Goodman to capture the magic of a day at the seashore. The poetry is appropriate for children 4-12, but will appeal to beach lovers of all ages.

To support the book’s launch, Lisa and I are doing a series of book signings throughout June. If your travels take you near any of the places listed below, stop by and say “hi.” We’d love to see old friends at these events, even as we make new ones.

Thursday, June 16, 6:00-8:00 p.m., Browseabout Books, 133 Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach, DE 19971

Wednesday, June 22, 5:30-7:30 p.m., Bethany/Fenwick Chamber of Commerce Event, Hammerheads Dockside, Bethany Beach (restricted to Chamber members)

Thursday, June 23, 6:00-7:30 p.m., The Palette & the Page, 120 East Main St., Elkton, MD, 21921

Tuesday, June 28, 1:00-2:00 p.m., Woodside Creamery, 378 N. Star Rd., Newark, DE 19711

Wednesday, June 29, 6:30-8:00 p.m., Bethany Beach Books, 99 Garfield Parkway, Bethany Beach, DE 19930

Can’t come us in person but still want a signed copy of Beach Fun for your collection or to share with a friend? Order your copy now at the First State Press website. Just $21.95 will bring a signed copy shipped directly to your door anywhere in the United States. Enjoy the summer with some Beach Fun!

On Teacher Appreciation Week, I would like to thank just some of the teachers and mentors who helped me on my way to becoming a published writer. I wrote my first “book,” a 20-page story titled “Tubby the Pig on the Moon,” when I was about 8 or 9, encouraged by my third-grade teacher, Mrs. Painter. In high school, Mr. Cressman read all of my poor attempts at emulating romantic poets such as Wordsworth and Blake, and Ms. Huddy encouraged my love of journalism.

At Ohio University, I had the privilege of taking creative writing classes with Daniel Keyes (Flowers for Algernon). and Walter Tevis (The Hustler and The Man Who Fell to Earth). Keys gave me a C+, the lowest grade I earned during my entire college career, showing me I was not nearly as good a writer as I thought I was and forcing me to hone my craft. Tevis taught me about characterization and strength of story.

At the International Reading Association, I thank Drew Cassidy, who hired me for my first professional writing job. I intended IRA to be a two-year stop on my way to other things and ended up staying more than 30 years! I also thank Lloyd Kline, who reminded me that sometimes writers need to set a project aside for a couple of days so they can “get their head around it”–advice I still heed today.

As I began my career as a children’s book author, I thank Bernice E. Cullinan, who encouraged me to collect and write beautiful poems about fathers into a book of Daddy Poems–and then challenged me to turn the concept into a series of family-oriented poetry books. And I thank Kent Brown of Boyds Mills Press, who took a chance on a new writer and published those poetry books, launching a career than now includes more than 25 children’s books.

There are many others who also contributed wisdom and/or encouragement along my “writer’s road.” My heartfelt thanks to all of you–and to all teachers who make a difference in so many lives every day!!

New Projects!

I am proud and pleased to join NFL players, celebrities, educators, and other authors as a contributor to a forthcoming book titled Tackle Reading. Organized by urban literacy specialist and children’s author Kathryn Starke, the book will be donated to schools in need across the United States. Starke has launched a Kickstarter campaign to help support publication of Tackle Reading. Check it out here. My article is titled “Making Facts Fun: Using Nonfiction in the Classroom.”

Meanwhile, Beach Fun: Poems of Surf and Sand is now at the printer! Aimed at young readers ages 5-12, the book pairs my poems with exquisite photos by award-winning photographer Lisa Goodman. We hope to have the book in hand by early May. We are still seeking support with our printing costs. You can earn some cool incentives–signed books, note cards, and more–by supporting our GoFundMe project here.

BeachBook_COVER_lores

I was pleased to be featured on Education Talk Radio this morning, discussing the topic of the increasing use of nonfiction in elementary classrooms. Host Larry Jacobs asked me a wide range of questions about all of my children’s writing, and we had a lively discussion. You can access the entire interview on the Education Talk Radio website.

Larry asked me how I got involved in writing for children, how I research and write nonfiction material for the education market, and how I handle the self-publishing process for picture and poetry books. For the latter question, I talked about developing The Sound in the Basement with our mutual friend, illustrator Eric Hamilton.

I also discussed how much I enjoy visiting schools to talk about writing and to conduct writing workshops with elementary students. I described the joy I feel when I see a young reader/writer sharing my enthusiasm for a particular topic. To learn more about school visit topics, visit this page on my website.

One topic that didn’t come up during our conversation was my next self publishing project, Beach Fun: Poems of Surf and Sand, produced in collaboration with award-winning photographer Lisa Goodman of Wilmington, so I’ll give that a quick plug here. We are currently conducting a GoFundMe campaign to help support our self-publishing effort. Learn more here.

A Look Back, A Look Forward

As I look back, 2015 was a productive writing year, with many exciting challenges and opportunities. Here are a few of the book highlights:

  • Publication of four new books through Capstone: The 1918 Flu Pandemic, The Challenger Explosion, Bold Riders: The Story of the Pony Express, and To the Last Man: The Battle of the Alamo. Six more Capstone titles are in various stages of production for publication in 2016!
  • Acceptance of a counting book, One Leaf, Two Leaves: Count with Me, for publication by Nancy Paulsen Books in fall 2017. Paulsen’s Penguin imprint publishes award-winning books by distinguished authors such as Jacqueline Woodson, Tomie dePaola, and Rachel Isadora. Needless to say, I am delighted to be in such company, and I eagerly await the publication of my book, which is being illustrated by up-and-coming artist Clive McFarland of Northern Ireland. Watch for further details as they become available.
  • Publication in September of The Sound in the Basement, a picture book about a young boy who overcomes his fear of going into the basement alone. The story is based on my own childhood experiences, and I worked on it off and on for nearly 15 years. I had a specific vision for how I wanted this book to look, so I decided to self-publish it through my brand-new imprint, First State Press. To turn that vision into reality, I teamed with artist Eric Hamilton, a long-time friend through the Association of Educational Publishers. Eric’s artwork lends just the right mix of fear and humor to the text, and we are both delighted with the finished product. To learn more or to order copies, visit www.FirstStatePress.com.

But the year encompassed more than just books. As always, I was also involved in a variety of other writing and editing projects. These included:

  • Communications work with Read to Them, the nonprofit family literacy organization that runs the One District, One Book program. I have known Read to Them’s founder, Gary Anderson, for nearly 15 years, and I am delighted to support his efforts to spread the love of reading among families and school districts throughout the United States and beyond.
  • Editing work with Delaware ShoutOut, a communications firm run by Newark resident Brooke Miles. I enjoy the work, and I learn something from each piece I edit.
  • An article for ASCD’s Education Update newsletter on using primary sources in education. I really enjoyed the research and interviews involved in this piece.
  • Working with graphic designer and longtime friend Mark Deshon to create a website for First State Press.

I also had the opportunity to do some fun school visits and speaking engagements:

  • Keynote speaker at the Young Authors’ Day conference at Keystone College in northern Pennsylvania in November, along with a school visit to Mountain View Elementary School in Kingsley, Pennsylvania. I already have several school visits lined up for 2016, and I look forward to scheduling more. I really enjoy sharing my love of writing with students.
  • Presentations at the International Literacy Association conference and the Parents As Teachers (PAT) conference with Diane Givens of PAT on using children’s books and children’s poetry to help children cope with traumatic life experiences.
  • Presentations at the State of Maryland IRA conference (on nonfiction) and the Keystone State Reading Association (on poetry).

Looking ahead, 2016 will bring publication of several more Capstone titles and the publication of another First State Press book, Beach Fun: Poems of Surf and Sand. For this picture book, I have partnered with award-winning photographer and longtime friend Lisa Goodman. We anticipate a spring release. Watch for more details to come.

As always, I am certain that many other exciting projects will arise, and I will post updates as more details become available. I look forward to an exciting writing year!

 

In general, I don’t like meetings, although I realize that they sometimes are necessary. Often, meetings are boring. Even productive meetings take me away from work that I’d rather be doing.

But there’s one meeting I truly look forward to each year—the annual meeting of the Book Committee for Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. For the past 15 years, a small group of educators (plus me as an author) has gathered at the office of the Dollywood Foundation in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, to select the books that will be represented in the library for the coming year.

Dolly Parton founded the Imagination Library in 1995 as a way to give back to the community. Born into relative poverty in the mountains of Tennessee, Dolly credits reading with helping her see the wider world and imagine her place in it. When she became wealthy, she vowed to give other children that same opportunity. She founded the Imagination Library to provide each child born in Sevier County, Tennessee, with a book a month from birth to the age of five. Thus, every child in the county has a personal library of 60 books by the time he or she enters kindergarten.

As word of the program spread, other communities wanted to get involved. As wealthy and generous as Dolly is, she couldn’t provide books for every child in every community that inquired. So beginning in 2000 the Dollywood Foundation began making the model available and offering the economy of scale for programs to get books at a tremendous discount from Penguin Random House, which supplies all of the titles for the program. Communities fund the program through United Way, corporate support, state or local governmental funding, or other sources. In 2000, the Dollywood Foundation also established the Book Selection Committee to choose the books for the Imagination Library.

Twenty years after its inception, the Imagination Library program now operates in more than 1,600 local communities across the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia. Later this year, the program will distribute its 70 millionth book! What a gift to children around the world!

I am proud to be able to contribute in some way to the Imagination Library. Besides, for an author and bibliophile, what could possibly be more fun than spending two full days poring over piles of outstanding children’s books and discussing their relative merits with other book lovers? No wonder I look forward to my annual trip to Tennessee.

Click here to learn more about the Imagination Library.

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