March 24, 2013

Poison Alert! (Did that get your attention?)

This week I'm shifting from my typical focus on early literacy, sign language, and writing for young children to introduce you to POISON . . . but not the kind of poison that might come to mind when you first see the word. The POISON I'd like to introduce you to is a delightful young adult novel by Bridget Zinn, a debut author who sadly is not here to launch her first book because she died of cancer in May, 2011 at the age of 33.

I first got to know Bridget shortly before her cancer diagnosis.  She visited my critique group and shared the first pages of a novel she was putting the final touches on. That novel was POISON. Bridget was excited to share her work with our critique group, and we were excited to learn that she had an agent who was seriously interested in representing her. Shortly after that first meeting, Bridget learned she had cancer, signed with the agent, and sold her manuscript to a publisher. Talk about a wild ride.

I did not have the opportunity to see Bridget very often after that first critique group meeting. I did get to attend some fun gatherings that were held in her honor (one of those gatherings being a "Fatten Bridget Up" party that she and her husband Barrett Dowell hosted the weekend before a major round of cancer treatments commenced . . .  I remember lots of cupcakes and laughter).

During the same time period that Bridget was undergoing cancer treatment, one of my parents was also battling cancer. I became a quiet admirer of Bridget, reading her blog and sharing Bridget's happy energy with my SMom. And truth be told, there were many days that Bridget's blog brought the exact sunshine I needed to brighten my own days.

Bridget's novel has finally been released, and her many friends and fans are doing what can be done to get the word out. One such event was a book launch party held at A Children's Place Bookstore last weekend. A crowd of authors and book lovers filled the bookstore. We got to hear some of Bridget's librarian and author friends read different sections of POISON (and we got to purchase copies that were signed by scads of local authors and illustrators and STAMPED with Bridget's signature).

One of the readers shared the first chapter that I'd heard about four years ago with my critique group. It was quite surreal to listen to those words being read by one of Bridget's friends, knowing that I'd first heard them being read by Bridget herself, before so very much had changed.

I purchased a STACK of Bridget's books and will be gifting them to my kids' teachers for Teacher Appreciation Week (shhh!). I did keep a copy for myself and my daughter, and one for my niece. I can't wait for Spring Break so I can finish reading!

I encourage you to get your hands on a copy of POISON and put this charming book on YOUR Spring Break reading list. Still need an arm twist? Here is a great review from Publisher's Weekly, and here is a link to a page listing the many authors, illustrators and bloggers who are talking about Poison. If you'd like to share your own review, please feel free to add it to the comments section below, OR if you'd really like to make a difference in the ongoing success of POISON, visit this page, and select one or more things you can do to help share and celebrate Bridget's work.  Cheers!

Quick Update: Spring Break has now sprung, which means I've now had the chance to finish this lovely book. Oh, what a treat it is. Don't miss it. It's a delightful frolic of a story!

March 22, 2013

Creating Picture Books with Kids: Introduction and Initial Research

Over the past several weeks I've had the pleasure of working with a group of elementary school students and a team of parent volunteers on a project called, "Writing Fractions Stories for First Graders." It has been a really fabulous experience, and I thought I would share the details here. Today I'll introduce the project and cover the "initial research" phase. In future posts I'll share more details about how we got from initial ideas. . .


. . . to the finished products: 

The focus of this learning experience was to provide math and literacy enrichment to the fifth grade students. The students were charged with writing and illustrating an original fictional story, geared for a first-grade audience, that incorporated a math lesson (in this case, information about basic fractions). The culminating event for the project was the fifth grade author/illustrators making an author visit to their "first grade buddy classroom." 

To launch the project, we had the kids do some worksheets/story problems that incorporated fractions, then we discussed what they liked/didn't like about these worksheets/story problems. Next, I read aloud a sample picture book that incorporated fractions: "Jump, Kangaroo, Jump," by Stuart J. Murphy. (If you click on the link associated with the book title, and then click on the "search inside" option available on the cover image on the left side of the screen, you can see a sample of the interior of the book). 

We also took a quick look at "Ed Emberely's Picture Pie," (by Ed Emberley). This is a REALLY COOL book that shows how different illustrations can be made using "parts" of a circle. (The "search inside" feature is also available via the book title link above). 

The first class meeting ended with my encouraging the kids to start noodling storyline ideas that they might use for their own books. The next meeting we did a more thorough research process to investigate other authors' books. I'll  cover that process, and the books we explored, in a future post. 

March 5, 2013

Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss!

I've had so much fun celebrating Dr. Seuss's Birthday over the past few days.  On Saturday, Dr. Seuss's actual birthday, I presented at the PCPO conference where I taught parents and preschool teachers about the early literacy and behavior management benefits of sign language and tips and techniques for enriching story times at home and in the classroom. On Sunday I attended the baby shower for one of my nieces (and I of course showered her with books, including some of my favorite Dr. Seuss books!).

To top that off, today and yesterday I had the pleasure of participating in Dr. Seuss celebrations at two different schools. Am I lucky or what?

Here are some photos from the Dr. Seuss Birthday Bash at a local preschool:

Here I am with "The Cat in the Hat" on the left and then with "Thing 1" on the right.

And here is another "Cat in the Hat" and "Thing 1" on the left, and on the right, "Pale green pants with nobody inside them."  How clever is that?

Speaking of clever . . . this particular preschool is located inside of a high school. The high school students learn about early childhood development by working with and learning alongside the preschoolers. For the Dr. Seuss Birthday Bash, the high school students dressed up as Dr. Seuss characters, just like the kids . . .  The most creative costumes, in my opinion, were Horton and one of the characters from "Ten Apples Up On Top." 

During this event I got to read from several of my rhyming picture books, and I got to share (and wear) some of my favorite hats! I decided to open with "Wear a Silly Hat," since so many of the kids were dressed up, and since Dr. Seuss was a hat lover himself.

As usual, I opened with a song to teach the signs for some of the words in the story, in this case, the sign for hat, and the signs for different articles of clothing. My favorite kid comment of the day occurred after I'd been through a few verses of my opening song. A child piped up and said something along the lines of, "Why do you keep on singing? I thought we were here to listen to you read?" Touche'. We learned a couple more signs, and then dove into the book!

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Next up was a visit with a classroom of 3rd graders at a local elementary school. I got to share my love of reading with the kids, and read one of my books. I showed them tattered copies of some of my beloved books from childhood (including "The Eye Book" by Theo. LeSieg) and my treasured "Pleasure Reading Award," from Mr. Snook's fifth grade class, then I read my book, "The Nest Where I Like to Rest."

As usual, I taught the kids some signs before I read them the story, and told them their job was to listen for those words in the story, and to sign along while I was reading so I could tell they were listening. Just before we started reading, one of the kids asked how he could possibly remember all of those signs. I reassured him that the signs would be easy to remember, and sure enough, he (and the entire class) enthusiastically (and capably) signed along with the story. At the end of the story I pointed out that someone had been worried that they wouldn't remember all of the signs. The little boy raised his hand and said, "That was me!" I told him I saw him signing the whole time, and I wish I could have captured his proud grin on camera!

Speaking of capturing things on camera, I waived my usual author visit fee for the preschool visit because the school participated in my "Capture that Story" campaign by filming my story time program at their school.  Once I get a chance to do the necessary uploading, I will add these video clips to the blog and my YouTube channel.  If you would like to host me for a "Capture that Story" story time at your school, get in touch.  Happy Signing!