It’s hard to believe how fast 2017 sped by! It was certainly a productive year for writing, capped by the release of my picture book One Leaf, Two Leaves, Count with Me by Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin in September. The book turned out wonderfully! Clive McFarland’s illustrations are gorgeous, and the book earned great reviews from School Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, and Kirkus Reviews. It has not yet become the bestseller I had hoped, but I plan to do another big publicity push for spring, as the book’s descriptions of leaves growing on the tree in the spring and dropping in the fall make it appropriate for both seasons.

I also wrote several other books in 2017. I did books on the First Amendment, Fourth Amendment, Children’s Legal Rights, and Decoding Propaganda for Capstone, and I wrote books on Teens in Prison and the State of Wisconsin for Cavendish Square. All are slated for release in 2018/2019. I have other projects in development as well, but they are not very far along yet, and I don’t want to jinx them by talking about any of them in detail.

When I left the International Literacy Association in 2011 to pursue life as an author, I set a goal of publishing 50 books before I retired. At the time, I had 15 books to my credit, and 50 seemed a long way off. I often wondered if I was being unrealistic. Entering 2018, I have 44 books either in print or in process, and it seems likely that I may reach 50 books well before I turn 65. I guess I’ll need to set some new goals!

I enjoy the process of writing books (most of the time), but even more rewarding are the related activities: visiting schools, libraries, and day care centers; speaking at conferences for educators, librarians, and other writers; and doing signings at bookstores. In November, I visited Rupert Elementary School in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, where I grew up. It was especially meaningful to me to share my writing and my experiences as a writer with youngsters from my hometown. I hope it inspired them to follow their dreams, just as I did.

For 2018, I look forward to several school visits that are already scheduled for the winter and spring, as well as speaking at the SCBWI regional conference in Maryland in March. I’m sure other opportunities will arise, and I look forward to those as well.

Like most children’s book writers, I supplement my author income with other writing work. I continue to do editing and writing work for the Global Reading Network and Read to Them. I feel fortunate to be able to support literacy-related efforts and continue the interests I developed during my many years working for ILA.

In short, I am blessed to be able to continue to do work that I find both meaningful and rewarding. As the classic Jimmy Stewart holiday movie points out, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

 

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Sometimes inspiration comes from the small details around us. In October 2014, I was participating in a Highlights Foundation Unworkshop (an unstructured writer’s retreat) at the Foundation’s retreat center outside of Honesdale, Pennsylvania, when I saw the last two leaves hanging tenuously on a tree. I watched them twitch in the breeze for several minutes, wondering if I would see them fall to the ground. As I watched, a line popped into my head: “One leaf, two leaves on the tree, three leaves, four leaves, count with me!”

With that line as an inspiration, I rushed back to my cabin and pulled out my laptop. By the end of the day, I had roughed out a manuscript telling the story of leaves growing on the tree from 1 to 10 in the spring, dropping from 10 to 1 in the fall, and then growing again the following spring.

After getting feedback from my fellow writers at the Highlights Unworkshop and colleagues in the northern Delaware SCBWI critique group, I sent the manuscript to my agent, Erin Murphy. She loved it and submitted it to Nancy Paulsen, President and Publisher of the prestigious Nancy Paulsen Books imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group. Nancy accepted it in just eight days and then enlisted the talented Clive McFarland of Ireland to bring the words to life with his illustrations.

Now the countdown is on for One Leaf, Two Leaves, Count with Me! The finished book will be released on September 5, just in time for the fall foliage season.

Here’s how Penguin’s promotional webpage describes the book:

“This playful counting book shares the colorful highlights of the four seasons in charming illustrations.   Count your way through the seasons! In spring, the tree’s leaves appear, one by one. By summer, there’s a glorious canopy. And when autumn winds blow, leaves fly from the tree, one after another, leading us into winter. There’s a world of activity to spy in and around this beautiful tree as the wild creatures, and one little boy, celebrate the cycles of nature. 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.”

Of all my 35 books, I think I may be most excited about this one! I will have further updates on the book as publication grows closer. Here’s the cover.

Each spring for the past 15 years, I have had the honor and privilege of traveling to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, to participate in book selection for Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. It’s my favorite meeting, and I look forward to it each year.

Dolly Parton initially founded the Imagination Library as a way to benefit the children of Sevier County, Tennessee, where she grew up. She credited reading with helping her envision the wider world beyond her isolated mountain home. Through her generosity, every child in the county receives a book a month from the time they are born until their fifth birthday. This means that each child enters kindergarten owning a personal library of 60 books.

Over time, other communities wanted to implement the program. Funded by state or local governments, local United Ways, banks, and other donors, the program now operates in hundreds of communities throughout the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Operated by the nonprofit Dollywood Foundation and using books published by Penguin/Random House (which has both a rich collection of classic titles and a broad selection of new books each year), the program now distributes more than a million books every month. It is poised to distribute its 100 millionth book early in 2018!

For three days each May, the Book Selection Committee meets to choose the books that will be included in the program for the next year. We read and discuss roughly 100 new books and debate which might replace books that are currently in the program. Always, we keep in mind factors such as the developmental stages of the recipients, racial and gender diversity, and which books we believe will truly stimulate the imaginations of young readers.

Getting together with the other members of the Book Selection Committee is like meeting old friends from camp for an annual reunion. And exploring so many great children’s books is an energizing experience. The staff of the Dollywood Foundation provides wonderful hospitality. Some years, if she’s in town, Dolly even stops by to greet us. She takes great pride in the Imagination Library and the impact it has on children’s lives.

To learn more about the Imagination Library, visit the project’s website. As for me, I’m already looking forward to the 2018 meeting!

 

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

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