December 29, 2020

Have Swag Will Travel: WAY PAST WORRIED and Other Titles, by Hallee Adelman

As the year comes to a close, I find myself reflecting on the past and looking ahead to the future. One of the things I'm most looking forward to in the coming year is launching a new book into the world, and that means BOOK EVENTS!

Today's guest, Hallee Adelman, has launched several books into the world (two during the middle of a pandemic!), and she was kind enough to allow me to interview her about some of her book-event-related experiences and ideas. I am also excited that she's giving our readers a shot at her New Year’s Giveaway: A Year with Less Worries and More Books, which comes with a signed copy of her latest title, Way Past Worried, book swag, a recipe sheet and whisk to make Worry Whip, and a gift certificate for free copies of her next two books!!! 

So let's get right to it! 

Dawn Prochovnic: It’s so nice to have you back to the blog, Hallee. I’ve enjoyed following your social media campaigns for your latest book as well as for your earlier projects. It’s evident that you put a lot of thought into your outreach to readers. 

You visited the blog last year to share enrichment activities and learning extensions related to your first book, My Quiet Ship. Since that time, you’ve launched two additional books, Way Past Mad that came out in March, (Albert Whitman & Co, illustrated by Sandra de La Prada)

and most recently, Way Past Worried (Albert Whitman & Co, illustrated by Sandra de La Prada.) 

I can’t think of two more appropriate themes and titles for the historic times we are currently navigating! In addition to hosting a variety of traditional book launch events prior to the pandemic, I’ve noticed that you’ve also coordinated many innovative outreach efforts. Reflecting on the programs you have facilitated, both traditional, and remote, are there any elements/activities that stand out that the kids (and/or their parents/ caregivers) seemed to enjoy the most? 

Hallee Adelman: With every book I write, my goal is to help kids feel loved. I want kids to feel seen and cared about as they learn to manage big feelings. Of course, I also want readers to connect and have fun, and I love creating interactive experiences. Some stand-out moments during this “time of zoom” have been dancing with classes to the Way Past Mad song, 

sharing Power Poses (or stances to feel empowered), using visuals to play “Guess My Mood,” and swapping ideas on how to deal with big emotions.

DP: What a beautiful, heartfelt goal, and the activities you've described sound (and look!) marvelous. I suspect that kids do indeed feel very loved and seen and cared about when they read your books. 

Do you have any fun anecdotes and/or pictures to share from your past events?  

HA: Yes! Way Past Worried was launching at a time when frankly, the world was worried. The headlines were grim, families were struggling, adults were drained from zoom calls, and most kids were learning from home. As I wrote in Way Past Mad, people’s feelings continued to “swell and spread like a rash.” Everyone suggested that I postpone the launch party. But I didn’t want to. I knew that kids and families needed to connect and remember that they were part of a large and loving community.

Children’s Book World was closed due to the pandemic, but as always, their team was up for anything. So I reached out to my local library in Belmont Hills to see if we could host a drive-through launch party in their parking lot. Amazing children’s librarian, Gwen Gatto, was thrilled and started spreading the word to families. 

We set their parking lot up as a track. Guests came in and were greeted by our team dressed in purple hoodies with the book cover on the back, so it could feel like the illustrator, Sandra de La Prada, was right there with us. I had planned out stations so that cars could make multiple stops to get treats by No Nuts Nikki, clip boards with activities and swag, superhero masks, signed books, and lots of photos (taken by my sister and niece). Socially-distanced stations were run by my kids, Jade and Sage Adelman, along with Children’s Book World, book ambassadors like Avery Haron, colleague Lyndsey McCormick, and fellow authors, like Goodbye Mr. Spalding’s Jenifer Robin Barr. At the very last stop, each car got a “BOOX” car magnet and entered a raffle to win a bundle that included swag, recent Albert Whitman titles and other books by local authors and friends.  

Besides friend and family guests, kids and teachers from schools like the Little Learners Literacy Academy and Conshohocken Elementary rolled in with love. I was so excited to see big smiles and to create a “worry-free zone” where everyone could recharge and feel Way Past Happy!

DP: Oh my goodness, Hallee. This event looks like so much fun! What an excellent example of working with and around current obstacles to create community and connect with readers. It makes me wish we lived closer so I could have been there to participate and support you in person!  

I do have to ask if you have any event mishaps or cautionary tales that other storytime/book event planners might benefit from knowing about--or simply get a kick out of?

HA: In the zoom universe, it might help to ask teachers in advance if the kids know how to mute and unmute their microphones. Alternately, you can suggest at the beginning of the zoom that parents of kids with unmuted microphones find a different time to vacuum.  

DP: Ha! Very good tips! I'm writing this into my planning notes right now!

I’ve noticed that you’ve incorporated novelty items/swag into your book promotions, for example branded feelings charts and a Way Past Worried puzzle. I’d love to learn more about how you went about creating/obtaining these items and if you have advice for others who might like to create similar items for their own books. 

HA: My biggest piece of advice is to ask yourself: Why you are creating these items and activities to go with your books? I write small books about big feelings and want readers to feel great love. I also want the book’s impact to extend beyond the time that a child spends reading the story. As a former teacher, I can’t help but think of extension activities, music and swag that can go along with the books. I want to strengthen students’ learning, create usable resources for librarians and teachers, and bring smiles to families. I think deeply about everything that I create and invest a lot of time, money and effort into making the book extension pieces just right. 

Another piece of advice would be to bring fun, talent and community into the work. I’ve engaged a talented local artist, Darcy Marcantonio, designed websites with super-techie, Derek Little, and written my own music that I brought to life with exceptional local musicians, Alfred Goodrich, Chuck Treece, Jeff Smith, and singers, Leo Gade and Elizabeth Christman from the Philadelphia Boys and Girls Choirs. This past year spring I launched the Book Song Challenge with “Poppy” a local celebrity also called “76ers Sixth Man” 

and have worked with the uber-special team at the Franklin Institute to connect with students about the science of emotions. 

My favorite activities are the ones I have created with my daughter, Sage Adelman. She is a wonderful baker and enjoyed cooking from a very young age. Together, we have made videos, recipes, and cooking activities like Mad Cakes and Worry Whip-so kids can mash out their mad and whip their worries! 

When reading the books, I hope kids consider the characters on the page and how the stories make them feel. In the long term, I want the kids to become successful in managing feelings, navigating relationships, and feeling confident and empowered. I’ve made Power Stickers, “Way Past Fun” card games, stamps, Stuck-at-Home videos, Emotion-Building writing lessons, “I Found My Way Past Mad” medals, etc. 

All these resources allow me to use different mediums to help cement the power of the book’s messaging in a way that feels authentic and natural to me. So my last piece of advice would be to make sure that whatever you create, large or small, will reflect a true piece of yourself and feels “just right” for your readers. 

DP: This is such excellent advice, Hallee. And I'm very moved by how much consideration and care you put into each resource and extension activity and tool that you create for your readers and their grown-ups. I feel so grateful that our mutual affection for picture books and education provided an opportunity for us to get to know each other. 

Are there any other resources you relied upon to plan your event(s) that might help others plan their own book launch events, particularly during these unique times?  

HA: There are many resources! I love learning and sharing wacky event ideas with my writing group. New writers looking to learn more about events can always turn to other authors through SCBWI, Highlights, and #pbchat. I personally always loved Alexis O’Neill’s author visit packet on her website! It helped me communicate with schools when I was first getting started. There are often great conference sessions about planning school events and launch parties. Many authors also post launch pictures and share descriptions of their events. I’ve found it helpful to ask my local bookseller, librarians, teachers, kids, parents, and fellow authors about successful visits and launches. As you can probably tell by now, two of the greatest resources I always turn to are community and creativity. 

DP: Thank you for being so generous with these ideas, Hallee! I was familiar with Alexis O'Neill's articles for the SCBWI Bulletin, and her School Visit Experts site, but I had not yet visited her author visit packet on her website. That's a great resource to add to the toolkit. 

Do you have any new projects coming up that you’d like to put on the radar? and/or is there something you wished I would have asked you that you haven’t had the opportunity to share? 

HA: Yes! Way Past Sad and Way Past Jealous are due out this Spring 2021! And…thanks to my amazing agent, Moe Ferarra of Bookends Literary, there are more books to come after that! Way past grateful for this opportunity to chat with you, Dawn. 

DP: It's been absolutely delightful chatting with you, Hallee. Thank you so much for taking the time to share your experiences with us. I've learned so much! 

Friends, the very best way to thank Hallee is to support her work. Hallee's books are available everywhere books are sold.

And, if you'd like to WIN Hallee's latest book, Way Past Worried, along with book swag, a recipe sheet and whisk to make Worry Whip, and a gift certificate for free copies of her next two books, simply comment below before 11:59pm EST on January 3rd. If you'd like another chance to win, visit @WayPastBooks on Instagram and follow the instructions on the giveaway posts. The contest starts today and will run through 11:59pm EST on January 3rd. Winners will be announced on January 4th.


Hallee Adelman is the author of My Quiet Ship (2018), and The Great Big Feelings Series with titles including: Way Past Mad (2020) and Way Past Worried (2020). With a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership and Learning Technologies, Adelman has taught university through elementary students, having been nominated for the Disney Teacher of the Year Award on multiple occasions. She loves sharing writing tips with educators, children, teens and writers. Adelman has also served various organizations related to children and/or education such as Franklin Institute, Please Touch Museum, Wissahickson Charter School, and Simon’s Heart. She is married with two children and two dogs.  Random fact: Adelman also produces documentary films and theater projects.  Learn more at


Have Swag Will Travel is an occasional feature of Dawn Babb Prochovnic's blog. Dawn is the author of multiple picture books including, Lucy's Blooms (Spring '21), Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty?, Where Does a Pirate Go Potty?, and 16 books in the Story Time With Signs & Rhymes series. Dawn is a contributing author to the award-winning book, Oregon Reads Aloud, and a frequent presenter at schools, libraries, and educational conferences. Contact Dawn using the form at the left, or learn more at

December 23, 2020

2020 Year-End Post and Holiday Greeting

As I've mentioned in years past, I still participate in the tradition of preparing and mailing holiday greeting cards. Each year I page through my (old-style) calendar and make note of the highlights and ordinary happenings in our household. I approach the task as an opportunity for creative expression, aiming to convey our family news in a way that is also reflective of the trends and/or events in our world...and OH what a year it has been. 

Beings that this year was an election year like no other, and the first year our two kids were eligible to vote in a presidential election, I felt the obvious choice was to express our family news in the form of a ballot: 

As I wrote, re-read, and reflected on this year's update, what struck me most was how full our "family ballot" was despite spending so much of the year at home. Yes, we have each missed out on favorite events and activities as well as several special occasions and milestones. Yes, we are going a bit stir crazy. And YES, we are looking forward to the world opening up again, (hopefully very, very SOON!), but we have found ways to connect, engage, create and learn, and we have made memories that will not soon be forgotten. 

Make no mistake, we are ready for a new year and a new normal that is reminiscent of our pre-COVID lives, but we have done our fool best to be open to and present in the offerings of 2020. As a result, our characters (and our relationships with each other) have grown and developed in ways we couldn't have anticipated or imagined this time last year; and that it what good stories are made of. 

Sam, Dawn, Katia and Nikko, 2020

December 1, 2020

The "Story-Telling" Part of the Writing Life

Over the past few weeks I've had the amazing experience of having a custom song written and recorded by one of my favorite bands, Fox and Bones

Image Source: Fox and Bones Website

It all started when I won a contest. I typically don't enter contests, so it's a major big deal that I entered and then WON such a cool opportunity. Fox and Bones recently started a new enterprise called Our Custom Song, and the contest was one of their launch "events." The band posted the contest info to their Instagram account, indicating that interested followers could enter by commenting on the post. Just before the contest closed, the band posted a reminder on their Instagram story, and I decided to add my name. The next day I received a message that I HAD WON! 

Soon after, Sarah and Scott (aka Fox and Bones) got in touch with me to share how the process would work: First, I was to select a topic or person of my choice that I wanted the song to be about. Next, I would complete a brief questionnaire about the subject, then we would set up a Zoom meeting so I could be interviewed about the subject. 

My first thought was to ask Fox and Bones to arrange and record their version of Travel in This Life with Me, the song I wrote the lyrics for and gifted to my husband, Sam, for our 30th wedding anniversary. I also thought it would be grand for them set one of my yet-to-be-published picture book manuscripts to music. I have collaborated with different musicians to create songs for three of my published picture books (Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty?, Where Does a Pirate Go Potty?and the forthcoming Lucy's Blooms), and I thought it might be fun to change things up and create a song first. I sent an email with these ideas, and Sarah got right back to me indicating that they would love to put their own spin on Travel in This Life with Me

Then, I went on a long walk. Sam and I were in Sunriver, in Central Oregon, at the time, and the fresh air was all I needed for another idea to rush in. It was so obvious when it hit me, I was almost embarrassed that I didn't immediately think of it before: what I most wanted was a song about my late father-in-law, Henry Prochovnic, aka "Pop." His life story is tragic and beautiful and full of everything good stories are made of, and I could not imagine a better subject for a custom song. I wrote an updated email to Sarah and Scott, including a link to a blog post I had written about Henry a few years back, shortly after his memorial service. The post included a link to his obituary and the remarks I made at his service, to give them a sense of this wonderful man and his life story.  

Scott and Sarah agreed, and they sent me their "getting started" questionnaire and coordinated a time to meet by Zoom. We covered a lot of ground during the recorded Zoom meeting, which lasted just over an hour. Sarah took the lead in interviewing me, using the questions in the questionnaire to guide our conversation...and I told family stories. I found myself wondering what elements of Pop's story would make it into the song. Scott, who was the primary note-taker during our conversation, offered some hint of which of the morsels I shared were particularly "song-worthy," as he periodically and enthusiastically scribbled in his notebook. Throughout the conversation, I found myself both participating as an interviewee, and also taking mental notes as a fellow story-teller.

After our meeting ended, I sent Sarah and Scott an album of photos of Henry and Teena, and of our family, including these gems: 

as well as a copy of the handout from Pop's memorial service that included some of his well-known quotes and his full obituary. I also sent the responses I had jotted down for the questionnaire, in preparation for our meeting. The questions, and some excerpts of my responses included:

Q. Why did you want to do a custom song for this person?

A. Because Henry (aka "Pop" and "Grandpa") was such an important role model...the example he set for what pure, unequivocal love looks like and what it means to be a family will continue to live on in our family...and the families we grow.

Q. What occasion is the custom song for?

A. I plan to gift this to my husband, our kids, and my mother-in-law for the holidays--most likely around the time of Thanksgiving.

Q. What emotional impact do you hope to have on the recipient? 

A. I want this song to simultaneously break their hearts and fill them up.

Q. In one sentence, what do you want the song to be about? 

A. The cosmic nature of the circle of life. 

More than one sentence: The life we know and share exists because Henry/Pop/Grandpa somehow endured and survived the atrocities he witnessed and was subjected to AND because he fell in love with Tatiana/Teena... Reflecting on the Holocaust he often said: "On one shoulder I could hear a little voice saying, 'I want to die.' On the other shoulder I could hear a little voice saying, 'I want to live.'" He often followed that by saying he didn't know how or why he survived. I always replied, "so that I could have this beautiful life with your son and your grandchildren."

Q. What genre or musical artist would you like this song to resemble?

A. Acoustic folk. 

Q. What do you want the feel or the essence of the song to be? (ex. ballad, funny, romantic, upbeat and fun, thoughtful...)

A. Thoughtful. 

Q. Tell us about your subject: 

What were your favorite things about them? 

A. That he told me to call him “Pop” the first time we met. That he lived and survived so that I could be so lucky to live the life that I do with his son and our two children.  

Q. What words would you use to describe them?

A. Hard-working. Strong. Stubborn. Enduring adoration for his wife, Teena and the family they created and nurtured. 

Q. What do they love to do? What is their life purpose?

A. Henry was most proud of providing for his family. He worked at a cannery all of his career. 

Q. Do you have any anecdotes our stories about this person that help explain who they are and what your relationship is like? 

A. He asked his citizenship teacher if there were any pretty girls in town, and he was told where Tatiana/Teena lived. He knocked on the door and asked to meet her...he got a glimpse of her, and he was determined. He loved to say, "I had a nice car, a full head of hair, some money in my pocket..." Henry and Teena dated briefly and were married soon after. They had their first child before they spoke the same language and before they even knew they were different religions. 


The next steps would be that Fox and Bones would compose a song and share draft recordings with me for a couple of rounds of feedback before they professionally recorded the song. I anticipated that weeks might pass before I heard back from them. Two days later, I had a draft song in my inbox. It was beautiful and moving and took my breath away. I did not know how I would keep it a secret from Sam and the kids until Thanksgiving. True confession: I shared the song with my sister, because I simply could not keep it to myself. She, too, was in disbelief that a song written by strangers could so perfectly capture Henry's story. 

After receiving the first recording and lyrics, I had to get busy and do some fact checking with Sam, and my mother-in-law, Teena. There were a few stories that I had shared during the interview that I needed to double check were completely accurate. That fact-checking led to my needing to make a few clarifications with Sarah and Scott. Once again, they quickly turned around a second draft recording. That version was even better than the first. There were just a few small, outstanding details that needed to be fine-tuned. I noted those requests, made a few suggestions, and in a matter of another few short days, I had a beautiful studio recorded version in hand. Then I had to wait to share it. 

Turns out I did not have the self-discipline to wait. I shared the song with Sam while we were still in Sunriver. He was speechless and deeply moved. Together, we shared the song with our two kids during our Thanksgiving dinner. We printed out the lyrics and rolled them into a scroll and wrapped a ribbon around them. It made for curious questions leading up to the song share--and soon the meal was seasoned with tears. A few days later, Sam and I shared the song with Teena and were met with more tears. 

As the tender memories of this man who is so dear to me are nudged so specifically, the feelings of grief and loss resurface. I suspect we will each cry a little bit each time we listen. But even though it indeed hurts to listen, it also feels good to hear this man's life conveyed through music, played back with truth and authenticity. The tears are in large part because Fox and Bones wrote and recorded a song that so beautifully and eloquently captures the life and times of Henry Prochovnic. 

I think one of the greatest compliments that could be given to Fox and Bones is that family members and friends who have now heard this song have asked if I wrote the lyrics. I did not. But I did learn quite a bit about story-telling by participating in this custom song writing experience. 

Henry and Teena have rich and compelling life stories, and Sam and I have been diligent about asking them to share their stories with us and with the wider community. As a result, Henry's story has been recorded through formal projects with organizations such as the Shoah Foundation, and through informal projects of our own, such as long ago setting up a video camera over many shared meals, and thus recording their answers to the questions we asked about their lives. 

On several occasions I've dabbled at writing down some of these stories, but I've never gotten past the dabbling stage. I've had difficulty sorting out the details and finding the through-lines. What I realized through this experience with Fox and Bones is that there are many, many stories about Henry and Teena (and others in my family tree) floating around in my head. The raw matter is there. I just need to commit to working with it. I was also reminded of the importance of narrowing in on significant details. I shared a variety of family stories with Sarah and Scott during their hour-long interview, and they created something magical and true by asking good questions, listening carefully to the answers, and by having good instincts for choosing the details to amplify and the details to resist getting distracted by. Going forward, I will seek to replicate that skillful crafting of story in my own work--be that stories that chronicle my family's rich history, or stories that I invent from my rich imagination.   

And now I imagine, dear readers, that you would like to hear this song. It is entitled, The Love Your Life Begins

You can find it on YouTube and SoundCloud (and maybe someday, on one of Fox and Bones' albums.) I've shared the beautiful lyrics below. And if you would like the opportunity for Fox and Bones to create your very own custom song, I encourage you to get in touch with them directly. You can find out more here


The Love Your Life Begins

Lyrics and music by Sarah Vitort and Scott Gilmore. Recorded and mixed by Matt Greco at The Rye Room in Portland, Oregon. (c) 2020 Our Custom Song, a subsidiary of Fox and Bones LLC Lyrics Poland 1925, the beginning of a life Memories are few and far between pulled from this time Had 2 brothers and a sister, life was simple looking back Only 14 years of youth, before adulthood took all that Just 14 years, your youth went by so fast 1939 a prisoner, separated from your blood Transported in cattle cars and ground into the mud potato peels as sustenance, crushed stones with your bare hands One step out of line, and there your life would end A hallowed voice asks why continue on? With so much pain and suffering, just take that step and all this will be gone A second voice chimes in Your life’s more than your own, it belongs to the love your life begins The love your life begins 1952 in Portland, a 26year ride, you catch a glimpse of pure beauty, you’re convinced that she’d one day be your bride one look, is all it takes, it’s all you’d ever need, you married Teena shortly after for 65 years of harmony still the prettiest you’ve ever seen Working hard and saving up, providing for your family To insure they never wanted, you spent overtime at the cannery In 62, a joyful call came by surprise Your sister, who’d been presumed dead, was very much alive The first voice asks, how could you live on? I had you marching straight towards death, you were defeated I thought that I had won The voice responds within Your life’s more than your own it belongs to the love your life begins Fatherhood comes naturally to strong and steady types The nightmares of your youth became the dreams you made for your children’s lives They flourished, free from persecution in the states Henry, your family called you Pop and burned for you each one of your steaks It was the only way to make them safe You passed more peacefully than any could have guessed Upon the day that heaven opens up its gates to each and every guest You worked relentlessly to keep your family fed you lived your life to honor all the souls who would come next The first voice asked how do I become So strong a man, with so much love, is there still time for me to turn to one? The next voice draws you in Your life’s more than your own it belongs to the love your life begins


Thank you, Sarah and Scott, aka Fox and Bones, for knowing just the right questions to ask, and just the right details to capture from my answers, and for creating something so tender and true. It is quite possible I will never be able to fully convey my gratitude for this special tribute to Henry Prochovnic that our family will treasure for the rest of our lives.