Author Spotlight: Tim Vasquez


Tim S. Vasquez’s casual, easy-to-read writing style has collided with his vast life experiences to create his long-awaited first book, The Taco Stand. Growing up in the kitchen of his parents’ Mexican restaurant in Tempe, Arizona, has provided him the impetus for the book. Tim is the owner and operator of his family’s restaurants, Someburros and Isabel’s Amor, where he strives each and every day to honor the legacy of his Nana Isabel and Tata Poncho.

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Where did you grow up?
Tempe, AZ.

Did you read a lot as a child?
I loved children’s books but I enjoyed writing more than reading.

What were some of your favorite books/authors?
I enjoyed Shel Silverstein and A Light in the Attic as a child. As a high school student I loved The Count of Monte Cristo.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a professional baseball player.

Tell us about some of the jobs you’ve had before you became a writer.
I worked in my parents’ restaurant, Someburros, growing up and now I own the business and that is my full-time job.

How did you get started writing?
My grandma Betty was a good writer and so was my mom, Mary. They always made writing fun and something enjoyable to do. My mom still loves writing poetry and she has had a huge influence on my writing.

What do you like best about writing?

I love the storytelling aspect of writing. I enjoy using words that paint a picture in the reader’s mind so they actually feel like they are a part of the story.

What do you find the most challenging about writing?
Finding the time to actually do it.

What do you think makes a good story?
I think the best stories are ones that the reader can relate to and totally picture in their mind.

Where do you get your inspiration?
I love getting a cup pf coffee and “people watching.” I try to think about who they are, what they are doing, and how they got there. Every person has a story and if I think about what it might be, sometimes it inspires me to write.

What is your favorite reading/writing snack?
Coffee.

Do you have any quirky writing habits?
I write best right after exercising outdoors. It seems to get my creative juices flowing.

What writing advice do you have for aspiring authors?
There are no rules and there is no right or wrong with writing. Be creative. Be yourself. Write what’s on your mind.

If you could spend a day in any imaginary world from a book you’ve read, where would it be and why?
I’d love to be adventuring in Where the Wild Things Are.

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Tell us about your latest book/project.
My book, The Taco Stand, tells the story of my Nana Isabel and her passion for cooking and making tacos for her boys to sell on the street corner. One day, she is approached by a man in a black suit and he presents his greedy plan to expand her business while taking time away from her family. Isabel is faced with the decision between fortune or time spent with family.


For more information about Tim Vasquez and his book, visit www.thetacostandbook.com.

Cartoonist Across America Creates Art Ability in the Classroom


by Dr. Dawn Menge

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Phil Yeh founded Cartoonists Across America in 1985 to increase literacy across the country. He has painted more than 1,800 murals in 49 U.S. States and more than a dozen countries. Phil’s goal is to create and encourage literacy through the Arts. "I am pleased that the Cartoonists Across America Tour has been formed, because I agree that literacy has become a problem in our country. Humor itself is always a valuable tool in providing incentive for reading.” - Charles M. Schulz, creator of Peanuts.

The recent snow storms in Southern California postponed our much-anticipated visit from Phil Yeh. He was going to bring his talents to our classroom to create a mural with the students who have severe cognitive delays in our classes. Finally, he was able to brave the weather and he and his wife Linda came to spend the day with our students.

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Paint, brushes, and comic books were all unpacked and Phil soon began to freehand the mural for us to paint. Right before our eyes he created mountains, the sun, Joshua Trees, and many animal characters for our students to paint in. Highlighted across he wrote, “Building a World of Readers, Artists and Dreamers.” The first of the students came to choose their colors to paint. Their varied cognitive and physical delays were pushed aside and soon forgotten as they excitedly picked up their paint brushes and paint and began to fill in the mural. Each student took their turn in adding their personal touches to our mural. Soon, there was a bright yellow sun with deep red lips painted by our beautiful young student who despite being deaf, uses her assertive nature to command and direct others. Our young man with Cerebral Palsy in his electric wheelchair spent an hour painting the Joshua Trees. He was so intent on getting it right and staying within the lines, carefully dipping his paint brush in the green and then raising his arm to apply the color.  

The hours passed quickly as more than 30 students whose abilities included Autism, Down syndrome, visual and hearing Impairments, and intellectual disabilities, took turns adding their loving touch to the mural. The occupational therapists, speech therapists, education specialists and educational assistants all joined in to add color and flare to the community board. The students used their creative imaginations and formed a river flowing at the bottom of the mountains. Animals were given varying color schemes, none looking the same as different students tackled different areas. Birds flying across the mountains sported colors in yellow, red, blue, and brown. The mountains were orange, yellow, and blue. A young man in an electric wheelchair painted the rabbit with a red face and a purple suit.

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Phil Yeh spent the morning helping and encouraging the students and explained his philosophies and experiences about using the Arts to expand and increase the use of combining art and literacy to build stronger communities. “Our belief is that without the presence of creative expression, the ability of students and adults to learn and pursue any subject becomes stifled, uninspired and robotic,” he says.

Phil’s graphic novel, Dinosaurs Across America, teaches U.S. Geography while entertaining students and adults with the vividly illustrated pages. As Phil painted over the black lines on the mural the paint brushes were washed, and the paint put away. The mural will be showcased in a local art show to appreciate artwork developed by individuals with disabilities. A fitting end, to a unique and amazing opportunity given to our students, on this rainy, wintery day. We are all responsible and influence Phil’s dream to create literacy through the arts and to help him accomplish his goal of “Building a World of Readers, Artists and Dreamers” in homes, classrooms, libraries, and community centers throughout the country.

Author Spotlight: Rita Gigante, Bobbie Sterchele-Gigante, Donna McDine, and Renie De Mase

Meet the authors/illustrator team behind Angel’s Forever Home (Mascot Books), a true story about a dog who was rescued from a Chilean earthquake, and searches for his forever home. Facing his fear of rejection for not being like other dogs, he embarks on a journey that teaches him the importance of patience, courage, and the willingness to open his heart to others.

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Where did you grow up?

Rita: Old Tappan, NJ.
Bobbie: Northvale, NJ.
Donna: I am a lifelong resident of Rockland County, NY and have resided in Tappan, NY for the last 21 years.
Renie: I grew up In Airmont, NY (Suffern).

Did you read a lot as a child?

Rita: No, I didn’t have an interest in reading till senior year in high school.
Bobbie: Yes. Pre-teen.
Donna: I was an avid reader as a child. I especially enjoyed the Nancy Drew mysteries. I still have the collection to this day.
Renie: Yes, all the time.

What were some of your favorite books/authors/artists?

Rita: There are so many and very diverse. Some are The Great Gatsby, The Eden Book series, Outlander, The Biology of Belief, Becoming Supernatural, The Glass House, etc.
Bobbie: The Godfather’s Daughter, An Unlikely Story of Love Healing and Redemption, Judy Blume books, astrology and healing books.
Donna: Judy Blume was my favorite author and I read Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret so many times the book was torn and worn out.
Renie: Renoir and Monet, I don’t really have a favorite artist.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

Rita: I always knew I would help people but just allowed it to unfold to where I am today.
Bobbie: A nurse.
Donna: I had dreamed of becoming a reporter and enjoyed watching the Lou Grant show with my dad. It always intrigued me how the reporter would put their story together.
Renie: A mom and an artist. I considered interior decorating or art therapy as well.

Tell us about some of the jobs you’ve had before you became a writer/illustrator.

Rita: I am a psychic, medium, healer, health coach, massage therapist and exercise physiologist.
Bobbie: Nurse, hairdresser.
Donna: In high school I worked in the bakery department of a local supermarket and eventually fell into the work as an administrative assistant. While I continue to write, I continue to work as an administrative assistant to keep the steady income flowing. Which is imperative with college tuition for our daughter.
Renie: As a teenager I worked in a bakery, a florist, and a clothing store. Later I worked as a realtor while trying to build up my art career.

How did you get started writing/illustrating?

Rita: I started writing my memoir 15 years before it came out in 2012.
Bobbie: When I started college I wrote lots of poems from my life.
Donna: Back in 2007 I came across the Institute of Children’s Literature aptitude test and my long-shelved desire to write was re-sparked. I eagerly completed the test and mailed it back. Yes, back then we used snail mail…LOL. And I now have six children’s books to my credit along with many print and online magazine articles.
Renie: I sketched and painted all the time growing up. I took every class available in high school. I studied art in NYC then continued with art lessons. I painted murals in both schools and private residences. I had the opportunity to teach children in an art/craft studio. I am now commissioned for custom artwork, painting pet portraits and house rendering and that is how I was asked to illustrate this book, I originally painted a pet portrait for the author.

What do you like best about writing/drawing?

Rita: For me it is very cathartic and healing. I also love to bring stories to life, make people laugh, and help others in their healing process.
Bobbie: Bringing a true story to life.
Donna: Once I have a story idea in place and I have conducted my research whether it be for historical fiction or internal character interviews, I move forward with the story. Even though I am the creator of the story, it often amazes me the twists and turns a story takes from my original plan.
Renie: Just the feeling of creating something, I find it to be a combination of fun, exciting, rewarding, and relaxing all at the same time.

What do you find the most challenging about writing?

Rita: Getting started.
Bobbie: Having the time to do it.
Donna: When conducting my research for my historical fiction books, The Golden Pathway and Powder Monkey I needed to remind myself when to stop the research and get down to the writing.

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What do you think makes a good story?

Rita: A character that speaks to me. Good descriptions of people, places and events. A story should make you want to read more even when you get to the end. Anything that I can learn from.
Bobbie: The truth and experiences of someone’s life.
Donna: From my perspective it’s important not to be preaching to the reader by a lesson. To create a true world where a child can relate to his/her life will keep them interested rather than trying to get a lesson across.

Where do you get your inspiration?

Rita: Meditation, exercise, and discussion with other authors.
Bobbie: Inspiration comes from within and experiencing life with new people every day.
Donna: My inspiration comes from many facets. From jotting down conversations my children have had with their friends over the years while playing, newspaper articles, or even an overhead conversation or action while out and about.
Renie: Sometimes from my feelings whether I’m going through a good or even difficult time, which will affect my work. The beautiful colors outside also inspire me.

What is your favorite reading/writing/drawing snack?

Rita: Popcorn.
Bobbie: Cheese doodles.
Donna: French vanilla tea with bite-sized cold chocolate chip cookies. Yum.
Renie: I don’t eat when I am painting, however starting early in the morning with a good cup of coffee is always nice. Although I’ve gotten so into my project that I’ve dipped my brush into my coffee instead of the water…

Do you have any quirky writing/illustrating habits?

Rita: Not really. Just need a quiet place and sometimes exercise will give me motivation and great ideas.
Bobbie: I doodle while I write.
Donna: My research, character interview, outlines, and first drafts are always written long-hand with my favorite writing pen. A Graf von Faber-Castell pen gifted to me by my husband and daughters when my first children’s book, The Golden Pathway was published in 2010.
Renie: Not really quirky, but I have an old eraser I should toss but I love using it, even though I have newer ones, I always use that one. Also I like blending colors with dirty water for shadowing.

What writing advice do you have for aspiring authors and illustrators? 

Rita: Push through. Know that whatever you have to say is worthy and can help others. Trust the process.
Bobbie: Write from your heart.
Donna: Participate in writer’s workshops, conferences, and critique groups. Read, read, and read some more in the genre you find the most inspiring to write for.
Renie: Just create, don’t overthink, especially wondering if it’s “right “or “wrong,” because it’s not either, it is your creation, just let it flow out…. When drawing a person or an animal, always use absolute black and absolute white in the eyes. A teacher taught me that when I was younger and I always think of that, just a simple fact.

If you could spend a day in any imaginary world from a book you’ve read, where would it be and why?

Rita: Outlander. Love the culture, land, time period, etc.
Bobbie: I would be in the afterlife and experience what it would be like and then come back to Earth and share my experiences.
Donna: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. It is absolutely fascinating how the characters go from one world to another.
Renie: I would spend the day in a mystical garden; I like the woodland/garden watercolor scenes with fairies and angels all around.

 

For more information about Rita Gigante and Bobbie Sterchele-Gigante, visit www.spaceofgracehealing.com

For more information about Donna McDine, visit www.donnamcdine.com.

For more information about Renie De Mase, follow her on instagram.com/renies_art/

 

 

Conrad's Classroom: The Skin We're In

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I’ve conducted hundreds of writing workshops over the years with students and adults of all ages. Young or older, students all have questions about the writing process. One of the first questions asked in every session is: Where do you get your ideas?

My answer is always the same. Ideas are everywhere. You just need to open your eyes and look around; open your ears and listen. It works for me.

My annual visit to the dermatologist was the spark for this month’s column. Sitting in the exam room got me thinking about just how amazing human skin is as a protective covering. It’s tough, yet flexible. It keeps harmful irritants out, but is porous enough to let off excess body heat and moisture in the form of sweat.

If cut or scraped or roughed up, skin has the ability to heal quickly, often in just a matter of days. These facts I knew already. But with curiosity piqued, I asked some questions to learn more.

Skin is actually the largest organ of the human body. Most people know a bit about human organs. The heart pumps blood through a miles-long network of arteries, veins, and capillaries. With every breath, our lungs take in oxygen from the air and expel carbon dioxide and water as waste products. Our liver and kidneys rid the body of harmful toxins.

All of those organs are connected inside our body. On the outside, our skin is the perfect covering for everything. That includes all of our organs, muscles, bones, nerves and brain.

An average-sized person has between 16 and 22 square feet of skin. Spread across a flat surface, that is enough to cover a single bed. Or, consider that a standard doorway opening is about 21 square feet. All of that skin weighs between 9 and 11 pounds. Skin accounts for about for 15 percent of our total body weight.

Our skin is the body’s protective barrier against the outside world. It’s not as tough as a turtle’s shell or a suit of armor. Still, it protects our bones, muscles, and internal organs from disease. Our skin is filled with nerve endings, the sensors that allow us to feel and touch and react to heat and cold.

Human skin is made of three separate layers and each layer has a specific purpose. The outside layer is called the epidermis. It is thickest on the palms of our hands and soles of our feet. It is thinnest on our eyelids. The epidermis also contains the pigments that give our skin its color.

The middle layer is called dermis. It contains billions of nerve endings and is home to blood vessels and the roots of every bit of hair.

The subcutaneous layer is the deepest layer of our skin. It contains fat cells. It serves as a shock absorber to help protect our internal organs.

According to scientists, our skin is constantly changing and produces new skin cells as dead cells are shed. We shed between 30,000 and 40,000 dead skin cells every minute!

Our skin totally renews itself about once every 28 to 35 days. Consider it this way: By the time you reach age 20, you’ve already cycled through a new covering of skin almost 200 times.

We need to be aware of and take care of our skin each and every day. It’s our perfect covering.

 

Facts to get under your skin:

  • Your skin is home to billions of bacteria. More than a 1,000 different kinds.

  • Much of the dust in your home is actually made of dead skin cells.

  • Damaged skin heals itself by forming a scar. Scar tissue does not have hair follicles or sweat glands.

  • Tough, thick skin often forms over an area that experiences repeated pressure or friction. This tough, thick patch of skin is called a callus.


Resources to learn more:

Books:

My Amazing Skin Can Heal: A Book about Boo-Boos, Bandages and Band Aids by A. D. Largie

Skin: The Largest Organ in the Body by Baby Professor


Websites:

Science Kids – Human Body Facts

How Stuff Works – How Your Skin Works

KidsHealth – Your Skin

YouTube – How Your Skin Works


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The award-winning author and editor of more than 50 science and nature books for children and young adults, Conrad J. Storad expertly draws young readers into his imaginative and entertaining “classroom” to help them better understand and appreciate the natural world. (photo by Linda F. Radke)

Raising Me (To Become a Good Dad)

by Paul Alan Ruben

As a child, I didn’t want to be like my father. I wanted to be him. As a son, I idealized and idolized him. His interests, beliefs, and feelings about the world defined my father. And me.

Evidently, I wasn’t alone. In his book, Under Saturn’s Shadow: the wounding and healing of men, noted Jungian psychologist, James Hollis, PhD, writes, “Every man carries a deep longing for his father.” Pulitzer Prize winning novelist, J.M. Coetzee, observes in his novel, Slow Man, “Those into whose lives you are born do not pass away.” These sentiments reflect my experience as a son. I’ve not met a man in my life who doesn’t feel similarly.

Unfortunately, my father wasn’t the ideal role model, to say the least. Growing up, I discovered early on that my father did not seem interested in me. I do not recall, for example, being praised, spending alone-time with him, doing whatever fathers and sons do that enhances their bond. Shocking as it may seem, I do not recall being told, “I love you,” ever. And his fiery temper left me as unsure of myself as I was of him.

Fast-forward to my becoming a father. The moment I looked down at my newborn son after my wife handed him to me, I vowed that I would be the parent and father I never had. For the first 12 years, if I do say so myself, parenting was a snap. I was an emotionally available dad, raising an effusive, loving, bright child. Hugs, kisses, praise, and “I love you” were my parenting staples. And when discipline was required, my actions and words informed my son that the object of my dismay was his behavior, not him. What I hid, however, was my lingering fear that eventually he would discover the truth—that I was not a good father, and that he would no longer love me. 

At 13 years old, my son’s attitude took a turn that was as stunning as it was inconceivable: this wonderful dad’s wonderful little boy I thought I knew, had transformed into an adolescent whose middling grades no longer matched his super intellect, verified by every standardized test and his previous teachers’ report cards. But what most rattled me was my teenager’s dismissiveness, and his willful expressions of independence. He may not have meant it personally, but quite frankly, I took it that way. I regarded these behaviors as a rejection of me, as a referendum on just how ineffectual a father I was. Finally, the truth. I was a fraudulent dad! I did not deserve his love! 

For the next few years, I found myself, more often than I care to recall, angrily responding to his adolescent sass the way that I had responded to my father’s rage: I withdrew emotionally, cloaking myself in silence, as if he didn’t exist. I shut down emotionally, vanished, and when he asked me if I was angry, I declared softly, flatly, “Me? No, why?” I could see that he was confused and hurt, but I was also hurt—too hurt to speak to him, too hurt and afraid to confront his various misbehaviors for fear he would withdraw his love for me. In short, I felt more like a wounded combatant than a dad.

Throughout my son’s adolescence and well into his twenties—especially when he lived at home with my wife and me while in graduate school—I often wondered, will my angry silences alienate my son, just as my father’s overt rage had alienated me? I feared this inner dialogue that replayed itself whenever any interaction created emotional dissonance between us—Why would he love me? I don’t—would create the outcome I most feared: father and son as intimate enemies. 

I had to do something. I sought and benefited from various insights—garnered from reading about parenting, periodic counseling, and relentless introspection about what being a dad actually meant. Over time, I discovered that I could hoist myself up from my excuses-mat (it’s all my tough childhood’s fault) and become an adult dad and grown-up human being that both my son and I could be proud of.

Over the past decades, raising me has been a challenging process. That said, I have discovered various raising-me pillars that continue to validate my journey to becoming that father I aspired to when my son was born. 

Be responsible for your behavior! The responsibility for how you treat your son isn’t your father’s, your difficult childhood’s, or your troubles at work. The responsibility for how a father treats his son is 100 percent the father’s, 0 percent the son’s, period. This parenting-responsibility principle is a process that commits you to acting as an adult dad and grown-up human being, and to taking responsibility for your parenting beliefs and behaviors, when they work and when they don’t.

Your feelings are your feelings, not the truth. Fathers are humans and all feel, at times, uncertain, inadequate, frightened, angry, even unloved. While these feelings are valid, because they emerge from within, they are feelings only! They do not reflect who you are: a good dad, a loving dad, who has always wanted the best for his son.

Be proud of YOU. Not because you are perfect or have all the answers. Rather, because you count. To yourself and your son. Think of it this way, how can a son be proud of his father, if a father is not proud of himself?

Reflect, Aspire, Actualize: It is unrealistic to imagine responsible parenting as a bar that, once grasped, means, Woo-hoo, I did it! Becoming a responsible dad and parent is a lifelong, three-pronged process: Reflection, Aspiration, Actualization. Consider your behavior, and in so doing, continue to refine the kind of dad you aspire to become. Then, difficult as it sometimes may be, make every effort to be that dad and human being.

See your son as his own person. In his seminal work, The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran speaks of our children: “They come through you but not from you, and though they are with you yet they belong not to you.” Your son is deserving of and entitled to a father who sees and values him for who he is. This means reinforcing your son’s sense of self-respect, self-possession, and self-love.

Let your son know that he matters. When in your presence, your actions and words must first and foremost tell your son: I see you. I hear you. I acknowledge you. I encourage you. I can disagree with you, critique you, punish you, while always respecting you. You are emotionally safe with me. I love you without condition.

In his book, Living an Examined Life, Dr. Hollis writes that successful parenting is located “…in the child who understands that he or she is seen and valued for who they are … It sounds so simple, yet proves so rare.” Today, my greatest raising-me challenge remains becoming the adult dad and grown-up human being I aspire to be. Rome isn’t built in a day. Nor a lifetime. I am, however, proudly building Rome.

Paul Alan Ruben is a two-time Grammy winning audiobook producer and author of the short story collection, Terms of Engagement: stories of the father and son. He lives in Brooklyn, NY.



Author Spotlight: Nicole M. Stevenson


Nicole M. Stevenson is the author of Diamond's Kindergarten Madness, a story about a very anxious little girl who is about to start her first day of school!

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Where did you grow up? 
In Queens, NY. “Queens is Where Creativity is Born.” A mixture of cultures that got along.

Did you read a lot as a child?
Yes, I read. I didn’t read every day. When I did, I really would get into the story. Books would provide an essential escape for me, whether it was to get away from my brother or because there was reruns of my favorite shows. My mother was an avid reader.

What were some of your favorite books/authors?
Where the Wild Things Are. When I was teen, Nancy Drew. I enjoyed reading comics, especially Archie.

What did you want to be when you grew up? 
Believe it or not, I wanted to be a pediatrician. Later on when I entered college, I realized that biology and chemistry were a lot harder than I thought.

Tell us about some of the jobs you’ve had before you became a writer. 
Babysitting my godbrother was one of my first jobs. I worked for PAL summer youth—a whole bunch of children that were full of energy. I was an Usher at a theater in Queens, where I met Cool & the Gang, as well as a country singer. It was great experience getting paid to show folks to their seats and seeing free shows.

How did you get started writing?
Poetry was my introduction. In school I learned about poetry and fell in love with it. It is the words in the card you love, the lyrics to your favorite song.

What do you like best about writing? 
When I write and people enjoy what I’ve written, and I can evoke different emotion from the reader.

What do you find the most challenging about writing? 
The biggest challenge I’ve had to face is when I’m on a writing streak and then there is a dry season. The point when it seems your writing is at a standstill and you are awaiting the downpour.

What do you think makes a good story? 
A story that can hold up to its genre in which it’s written and leave the reader wanting to read more. A story that makes readers ask if there is going to be a sequel or series.

Where do you get your inspiration?
My inspiration can come from anywhere. Diamond’s Kindergarten Madness started with my eldest girl, the main character is named after her. This is not her story, just something that I made up.

What is your favorite reading/writing snack?
My favorite snack are Oreos and ice cream. They make me happy.

Do you have any quirky writing habits?
I will write on anything from a napkin to toilet paper.

What writing advice do you have for aspiring authors?
Write, write, read, rewrite and repeat.

If you could spend a day in any imaginary world from a book you’ve read, where would it be and why?
Well, I would have said Where the Wild Things Are, but after careful thought it would be inside Diamond’s Kindergarten Madness. In her world, she lets her mind get the best of her and she envisions some of the silliest things that occur. It makes me laugh and I feel like a kid again.

Tell us about your latest book/project.
My latest project is about a prominent black figure. This time I’m going back to my roots—poetry, of course.

Is there anything we didn’t ask that you’d like people to know about you and/or your books?
I’ve written four books thus far and aside from children manuscripts, I’m working on adult manuscripts as well. “I also host “On the Wall” live chat interviews on Facebook, I am the founder of Profile magazine fashion and entertainment, and I draw, paint, and write songs.

For more information about Nicole M. Stevenson, visit her on Facebook.

A Letter to My Younger, Nervous Self


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Dear little Ben,

I heard that you’re taking a test in school this week and that you’re very worried about it. You’re worried that you’ll forget everything you memorized. You’re worried that you’ll end up with a bad grade. I also heard that you have to play in a piano recital and that you’re freaked out. You’re scared that you’ll play the wrong notes. You’re afraid that your parents and teacher will be disappointed and angry.

Everything’s so hard when you have to do something important and you get worried. Believe me, I know. I remember how I felt when I was your age. When I took a test my stomach hurt, and my head ached, and it was hard to come up with the right answers. And when I had to play the piano in front of an audience my hands shook and it was so hard to get my fingers on the right notes. I remember my piano teacher saying, “You play so beautifully, why are you so nervous?” I remember my parents telling me, “You’re smart, you shouldn’t worry. You’ll do fine on the test!” This made me very frustrated and angry. I felt like they just didn’t understand. And I know you feel that way, too. You’re suffering and no one understands you. You feel alone.

But I have news for you. You are not alone! Many kids your age feel these things. And no one’s really helping them, either. So here’s the really good news: I can show you how to feel calm when you take a test and you play the piano in a recital. You don’t have to be scared and nervous. You can feel calm and confident.

I can hear you asking, “How can I do that?” Well, right now you’re focusing on how nervous and scared you are. How about if you learned to focus on being calm instead? “Focus” means what you’re thinking about and where you’re putting your attention. In a basketball game, the players are focused on the net and getting the ball into it. Then they score points and win the game. Right now, when you take a test and play in a piano recital you are focused on how nervous and scared you are. Your attention is going to your tight stomach and your throbbing head. So of course you can’t “score.” Of course you feel like you are failing. Learning how to be calm is not hard. In fact, it’s easy. You just have to learn to focus on something else. Let me show you how.

Being calm takes two steps: 

Step 1: Breathing. Of course you’re breathing all the time, but there’s a special way to breathe that will help you calm down. To do this, first you place both hands on your belly. Next, when you breathe in, you feel your belly filling up with air. You don’t have to push your belly out. Just send the breath down to your belly and feel it gently expand. This is called deep breathing. Your body and brain enjoy this. They want to be calmed down.

Step 2: Grounding. This is also easy, and fun. To do it, put both feet flat on the floor. Now feel the floor under your feet. Next, feel the chair you’re sitting on against your legs and bottom and back. Once you’ve done that,  now feel the floor and chair supporting you. Feel them holding you up. And don’t forget to breathe!

When you breathe and ground, you are focusing on calming down, not on how nervous you are. In fact, breathing and grounding are the best ways to calm yourself down.

Let’s practice. Right now, close your eyes and imagine you are taking a test or playing in a recital. If you start to feel a little nervous, use the tools right away! Breathe and ground. Do it again. And do it one more time. You’ll feel better and better.

And remember ... just keep doing it. I did, and now, when I have to take a test or play the piano, I remember to breathe and ground, I don’t get all upset and scared. I stay calm. You can do it, too. I know.

Your bigger self,
Ben (but now people call me “Dr. B”!) 

Ben Bernstein, Ph.D., is an author, educator, and performance psychologist. Trained as a teacher in inner city schools in New York and London, he was a prominent figure in the progressive education movement in the early 70s, and has since gone on to teach at every level of the educational system.

Over the last 50 years he has coached thousands of clients, from high school students to business executives to Pulitzer Prize, Tony and Academy Award winners. He has received numerous awards and grants from the U.S. and Canadian governments, and has been a speaker at national and international conferences. He was the first director of improvisation at Robert Redford’s Sundance Institute in Utah.


For more information, visit drbperformancecoach.com.

Author Spotlight: Becky Benishek


Becky Benishek loves to create stories that help children believe in themselves and find the magic in ordinary things ... and she likes Legos, Renaissance Faires, and the Commodore 64.

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Where did you grow up?

In a one-story house with a giant elm in the front yard, in a town surrounded by farmland and forests, between two cities. My mom still lives there. I love it.

Did you read a lot as a child?

Constantly. I can’t remember learning how to read. I remember my parents reading to me, and the house was full of books. I also remember reading to my kindergarten class and later, taking books out to the playground at recess to read on top of the jungle gym!

What were some of your favorite books/authors?

Miss Suzy by Miriam Young, illustrated by Arnold Lobel; A Hole is to Dig, by Ruth Krauss, illustrated by Maurice Sendak; Willow Wind Farm: Betsy’s Story, by Anne Pellowski; How Spider Saved Christmas, and other Spider books, by Robert Kraus; The Laura Ingalls Wilder books. Whenever things bothered me or I was going through something when I was younger, I would tell myself, “Laura had to do this and put up with that and it was a lot tougher,” and that helped me get through it. The 1939 set of Book of Knowledge encyclopedias because they were truly wonderful marvels designed for children. Each volume had poetry, things to make and do, stories, and answered questions in addition to providing rich history and contemporary knowledge.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

A steam locomotive engineer. (I still do.) But I also always wanted to be a writer, which to me was synonymous with “author.” How little did I know!

Tell us about some of the jobs you’ve had before you became a writer.

I’ve worked in a variety of IT and marketing jobs, including my present job. It’s wonderful, a real feel-good place where we train people who care for kids and adults with special needs and mental health issues. Very empathetic and caring all around. I manage an online community full of these customers, who seem like heroes to me and to all of our staff. Through my work with this company and this platform (Yammer), I’ve also received the Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) award since 2016, which lets me meet even more heroes.

How did you get started writing?

I’ve always written stories and poems; I still have most of the ones from way back, sheets stapled together and a cover done up in crayon or marker. I used to include “reviews” from The Horn Book and such, to make them seem authentic. Naturally, all were glowing! I’d submitted poems and such to various small-press publications through the years, but it was only in the last few years that I finally stopped thinking about getting my actual stories out there, and started doing it. My first two books are self-published (What’s At the End of Your Nose? and Dr. Guinea Pig George), and my third (and fourth-to-come) were picked up by MacLaren-Cochrane Publishing. In addition, I’ve been writing songs, with an eye toward collaborating with a local musician.

What do you like best about writing?

The way inspiration really does come like a thunderbolt, transfixing, illuminating. How you know you’d better drop everything and get that pen, tablet, or keyboard in hand or risk losing it all. Even at 3 a.m. Even when you’re brushing your teeth. How you feel yourself being a conduit for something that feels so wonderful and could, just possibly, be wonderful for someone else, too. And how, with the finished piece in front of your eyeballs, you don’t feel hollow or bereft because it’s out of you. Instead, you feel complete.

What do you find the most challenging about writing?

Sitting myself down and doing it. Allowing myself to sit down and do it. There’s always something else going on, and that something else can seem so much glossier and more vibrant than the mechanics of writing.  

What do you think makes a good story?

I like the expected done up in unexpected ways. A little quirkiness or surrealism, surprising elements, shots of humor; these draw me in. If it’s true that there are only seven plots in the world, then we’re already following a formula from the start. So what makes your story particularly you, that no one else could have written? That’s what I look for and enjoy.

Where do you get your inspiration?

In the course of a conversation, or a snippet of a thought or an overheard word, or looking at something that really resonates with me. Sometimes you’re aware of it when it develops and sometimes it comes like a thunderbolt.

What is your favorite reading/writing snack?

I’ve found it can be very motivating to write when hungry. I seem to get hungry every couple of hours, so that’s not too big of a stretch, but there are degrees. Otherwise, I love crispy, sweet and tart apples with or without creamy peanut butter, soft Camembert or smoked Gouda on rosemary crackers, hot chocolate with peppermint or vanilla, and chunky guacamole with just enough kick in it, with carrots to dip in or warmed tortilla chips. I’ve also gotten into loose-leaf tea and have quite a variety now. I think I’m still talking about eating while writing or reading, not just eating. Hmm! (Hungry now.)

Do you have any quirky writing habits?

This may not be quirky so much as elbows-out and snarly, but when I’m writing, do not disturb me lest a horror happen: My train of thought derailing. If I had a Jo March (“Is genius burning?”) garret, I’d retreat there, but I have established a corner of a room where my computer lives. I may also have occasionally commandeered the immediate area I’m in when inspiration strikes. Fortunately, for the sake of household peace, I just need to get the initial train of thought down and then everyone can talk to me again.

What writing advice do you have for aspiring authors?

Don’t stop writing. Do find a good editor. And even if your dream is to be accepted by a publishing house, don’t hesitate to self-publish in the meantime. You’ll learn so much about the industry and meet so many amazing people.

If you could spend a day in any imaginary world from a book you’ve read, where would it be and why?

Pern (Anne McCaffrey)! I always wanted to be a dragonrider.

Tell us about your latest book/project.

The Squeezor is Coming! (MacLaren-Cochrane Publishing) is my newest release. What’s a Squeezor? He’s a friendly monster who just wants to give hugs with his great, big, wrap-around-you-twice, squeezy arms, but he looks so scary, even other monsters run away! This makes the Squeezor very sad. How can he get them to look past his appearance? Then he gets an idea: It isn't about what he wants, but what the other monsters need. Originally, my story was much shorter. My marvelous editor, Quata, whom I found on Fiverr, thought that if I expanded on it, it could really make it into something big. I had to think about it, but saw that she was right, and I’m so happy I listened to her. When I received the contract from MacLaren-Cochrane Publishing, I was frozen in spot just staring at it for at least a minute! Then the hunt was on for an illustrator, and fortunately, I happened to work with one. Matt Fiss is a co-worker who does graphic design. I loved what I’d seen of his portfolio and some pieces he did for our company, and knew he’d be perfect to bring the Squeezor to life. To my delight, he agreed. Then, early in 2019, Hush, Mouse! (Maclaren-Cochrane Publishing) is coming out. Mouse is a tiny kitten who meows so much that she's always being told to hush. Little Liz is the only person in the house who appreciates Mouse, because she’s short for her age and is often overlooked and unheard. Together, the two prevent a crime and prove that even though they’re small, they're worth being listened to. For Mouse, I found a wonderful illustrator through Instagram, named Alicia Young. I loved how she drew both animals and children. I also decided to show diversity in Little Liz’s household. Growing up, most of the books I read had a boy as the main character. Even now, I have to consciously think not to default to “he” as a generic. This kind of thing really does have a long-term impact, and that’s why I wanted to help more kids see themselves in books. I’ve got more stories waiting for their turn to shine.

Is there anything we didn’t ask that you’d like people to know about you and/or your books?

What I really hope to show in my books is a different way of looking at things that can also lead to compassion and empathy—for ourselves as well as for others. Everyone has unique differences, and we don’t always recognize that we’re all part of the same family. I also think it’s harder to find meaningful and nurturing things in the mass of not-so-great stuff that comes at us. We may not know what we’re missing, but we know it’s something. It’s no wonder we’re experiencing so much drifting and disconnection. We can feel alone, misunderstood, picked on. We can’t always communicate our needs, either. So I want to give someone or something a voice in our world that they don’t ordinarily have.

That’s why I’ve got a snail who decides to give his boring old town of Slipperyville one last chance, a guinea pig who thinks he’s a doctor, a big-hearted monster who learns how to look past his own needs, and a tiny kitten and little girl who believe they really can save the day—and do. Thank you so much for giving me a voice, too, in this wonderful interview.

 

For more information about Becky Benishek and her books, visit beckybenishek.com.

 

 

Young Eagles: The Story of a First Flight


by Marie A. Fasano, EAA 635640
photos by eaa.org

Launched in 1992, the Young Eagles program has dedicated more than 25 years to giving youth ages 8–17 their first free ride in an airplane. It’s the only program of its kind, with the sole mission to introduce and inspire kids in the world of aviation.

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I open my eyes and turn in bed to look out the window. I can see it’s a crisp, fall morning with a clear, bright blue sky—perfect flying weather. I learned this is the best time to fly … early morning just after sunrise when the weather still has the cool feel of nighttime. The air remains smooth with fewer bumps. I hurry to get dressed and run to the kitchen to eat my breakfast.

After eating, I jump up from the table and yell, “Mom, let’s go to the airport, I want to fly.”

At the airport, I leap out of the car and run to the hangar. I’m so excited. I’m finally going to take my first airplane ride in a small plane. I see the planes lined up. I later learn they are a Cessna, Piper, Cirrus, home built and more, ready to go. They each can hold from one to three passengers. I grab my mom’s hand as we see the volunteers setting up the desk and registration forms for the parents to sign.

Mom says to a volunteer, “I have two important questions. What does it cost for Danny to fly and is it safe.”

The volunteer answers. “It’s free. The EAA, Experimental Aircraft Association has been flying kids since 1992. So far, over 2 million young people from ages 8 to 17 have had airplane rides for free all over the United States. The pilots donate their time and their planes. It’s the only program of its kind, with the sole mission to introduce and inspire kids in the world of aviation. Each pilot is licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and all aircraft are likewise licensed by the government. The flights are conducted according to federal regulations.”

After mom registers and gives her permission, a volunteer pilot, Paul, says, “Come on over for the pre-flight, the walk around. You’ll learn what the pilot must do to be sure everything on the airplane works OK. The pilot does this check before every flight. Let’s take a look at how the airplane flies. You can get in the cockpit, the area where the pilot sits.”

I climb up and settle in the pilot’s seat in the airplane.

Paul tells me, “The wheel or stick inside the airplane moves to turn the airplane in the air.”

As I turn the wheel, he says “Look outside the plane at the wing and see the ailerons, the small part of the wing. It goes up and down whenever the wheel turns right or left. This is how the airplane turns in the air. Now push the wheel forward and back. As you do this, look at the tail of the plane, with the elevator and see it go up and down. This is how the plane goes up and down in the sky. Next, look at the rudder pedals on the floor. They look like gas pedals in a car. Push one at a time and look out the back of the plane to see the rudder on the tail move. The rudder helps to turn the plane on the ground and in the air. See that lever in the center of the panel in front of you? Push it down to let the flaps on the wings of the airplane go down. Here the pilot checks to be sure there are no obstructions that would interfere with the flap movement.”

“Wow, I see them moving down.” I say.

He helps me out of the plane and says, “Let’s go outside and we’ll do the final check. I’ll drain the fuel from a small opening under the plane to be sure we find no water or dirt in the fuel.”

All my questions are answered from how the fuel pump provides gas, to how the pilot talks on the radio. After the pre-flight, I am eager to fly.

Paul walks me to the airplane to be sure I don’t walk into the spinner and propeller, “A big deal when being around an airplane is safety first,” he says. “Don’t go near the propeller blades because if there is a problem, they may turn without warning and you can easily get hurt.”

In this Young Eagles program, the pilots enjoy introducing youngsters to the joys of flying as much as the kids do. It may be a man or woman, someone who flies for fun, uses the plane for their business, or someone who has spent his life as a commercial, professional pilot flying for the major airlines or the military. Diane, the pilot who is flying me today says, “Most kids want to sit up front with the pilot to be the co-pilot.”

As Diane helps me into the right seat of the plane, I see there are pillows on the seats, so I can reach the wheel and see out the plane.

“I’ll show you how to strap in with the seat belt just as you do in a car,” says Diane. “Then we’ll make sure the doors are shut tight.”

She gets in the plane and helps me put on a headset. “OK, all set, can you hear me OK? We are ready to taxi to the runway.”

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“I can hear you, I’m ready, let’s go,” I answer. The plane moves forward and we are on our way to the runway.

Before we take off, Diane stops at the end of the runway. “I’ll do a pre-check pushing the power up to make sure the engine is running OK,” she says. We’ll use the radio to make a call on the microphone, so other pilots know we are leaving. Pilots use a special alphabet called the phonetic alphabet. “November Five Niner Mike Juliet is ready for takeoff, runway two four.” Diane looks to the sky to be sure no one else is coming in to land. All is OK and she turns to the runway, pushes in the power and I feel the airplane racing down the runway.

In a moment the plane lifts off. “I can see everything on the ground get smaller and smaller,” I say. For the next 20 minutes we’re in the air flying over our town. “There’s my school and Green Valley Park. I think I see my house!” I yell excitedly.

“Do you want to take the wheel and fly for awhile,” says Diane. I grab the wheel. “Gently, she says, it doesn’t take much to control the airplane. I’m here to back you up.”

As I lighten up on the wheel, I say, “Like this?”

“Great job she says,” You’re a natural pilot.”

“How about you make a radio call to let the other pilots know where you are?” “Repeat after me, “Five Niner Mike Juliet on left downwind runway two four at sixty-two hundred feet.”

I call on the radio and think, “I can’t believe she let me do that, just like a real pilot.”

Too soon we are on final to the runway and ready to land. I look down and see my mom waiting. Once we’re on the ground and out of the airplane, I say “Bye, Diane. That was awesome. I want to be a pilot, too.”

“Here’s your certificate and Young Eagles logbook with a personal code to activate your free EAA Student Membership and Sporty’s Learn to Fly ground school course,” says Diane, “You are now a Young Eagle.”

I run to my mom with a wide grin. “That was super.”

EAA will send the new Young Eagle follow-up information about their free online ground school course, details regarding other youth aviation programs, and EAA scholarships. So, take a free flight and become a Young Eagle. Check the website to find an EAA Chapter in your town.


Marie A. Fasano RN, MN, MA, commercial, instrument pilot with multi-engine and seaplane ratings. Marie’s flying, an important part of her life, entailed coordinating for the EAA Chapter #810 Young Eagles for about five years, flying the kids in her Cessna 182 59MJ; taking rural patients to medical appointments with Angel Flight West; and flying medical personnel to Baja, California to dirt strips for clinics for indigent peoples. Marie also spends her time teaching nursing, nutrition, and helping clients with long term care health insurance. On the side, her photojournalism has appeared in nursing and aviation journals and general newspapers.

Author Spotlight: Carole P. Roman and J. Robin Albertson-Wren


Homework horrors, chores, and not-so-friendly friends … that’s enough to stress out any child. The secret to staying cool is easy: it’s called mindfulness―and authors Carole P. Roman and J. Robin Albertson-Wren have written a #1 bestseller that gives kids fun activities to practice it on their own.

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Where did you grow up?

Carol: I was born in Brooklyn, New York, but moved to Rosedale, Queens when I was three years old.

Robin: New England – in Concord Massachusetts, outside of Boston.

Did you read a lot as a child?

Carol: I read a lot as a child. I began reading Nancy Drew with my best friend when I was six. We used to go to Woolworths and buy different books in the series, then trade them when we were finished reading. I soon began reading books my mother left around the house and ended up discussing them with my mother and grandmother. I read anything that was on the Times Bestseller List, I suppose. She only bought popular fiction.

Robin: As much as possible. I used to love reading up in trees near our home.

What were some of your favorite authors and books?

Carol: I remember loving Exodus, by Leon Uris, The Godfather by Mario Puzo, but as I got older my genres would change. When I was in my late teens I read only espionage books, Ian Fleming being my favorite. That kicked off a British year when I read everything by Orwell. I gravitated to science fiction by the end of my teens and read a lot of Asimov, Blish, and other science-fiction authors.

Robin: I loved the Bill Peet books, especially The Wump World and The Little House on the Prairie series, especially when Laura Ingalls was especially rascally.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

Carol: I wanted to be an actress, but knew that was unlikely. I put all my energies into being a teacher.

Robin: An architect – I loved building forts and tree houses when I was little.

Tell us about some of the jobs you’ve had before you became a writer.  

Carol: I worked in various retail stores that included jewelry, hardware, paint, clothing, and electronics. I babysat. I tutored other kids in my high school. I now run a global transportation company with my family.

Robin: I’ve been an elementary school teacher for over 25 years, and a mindfulness instructor for the past 5 years. When I was younger, I loved working as a camp counselor and lifeguard in the summer.

How did you get started writing?

Carol: My kids asked me to bring in a story for a family competition and then helped me publish it.

Robin: I had a marvelous teacher in 2nd grade who encouraged us to write books of poetry. That is when I first started. As an adult, I wrote my first manuscript when my daughter was an infant and I was a stay-at-home mom for 5 years.

Why do you write books?

Carol: When I completed my first book, I realized it wouldn’t sell without creating a brand. I then built my brand by trying different genres ranging from picture books, to fiction and nonfiction, as well as early reader chapter books and adult fiction under another pen name. Mindfulness for Kids is the first book I was actually asked to write.

Robin: I love sharing ideas and stories!

What do you like best about writing?

Carol: I love every aspect of writing, from creation to watching the reviews come in. It is emotionally satisfying and as exciting as having a new baby come home. I love it so much, I wrote a book on how to get published that ended up spawning three different blog radio shows and a magazine called Indie Author’s Monthly.

Robin: I love the freedom to get my thoughts and ideas created into the written word.

What do you find the most challenging about writing?

Carol: Making sure the books go out as mistake-free as possible. I do at least three edits, but pesky errors come up every now and then.

Robin: Finding the time to write, uninterrupted.

What do you think makes a good story?

Carol: Good stories are different for everyone. I think the most important element is making it universal enough that people can identify with the characters and feel what they are going through.

Robin: When people write about something they are passionate about, something that involves a variety of perspectives, emotions, and deep thought, it often makes for a good story.

Where do you get your inspiration?

Carol: I got the inspiration for The Treasure at Snake Island from a beautiful sunrise I witnessed on my way to the office. I wrote Oh Susannah based on a busy blogger’s response in a note. My kids and grandchildren always inspire me.

Robin: From my students (ages 3 to 21), and my own children.

Tell us about your latest book/project.

Carol: We collaborated to create Mindfulness for Kids. We had a wonderful time creating relatable situations for children to identify when they are having an issue, and then supplying them with tools to help themselves. I think it’s a wonderful book and I am thrilled with it.

Robin: It’s a collection of short stories, in which children experience a variety of emotions. Each story is followed by two mindfulness activities that could help in handling stress, managing anger, building resiliency…etc. I was thrilled to be the mindfulness expert on this project and work closely with Carol to create this engaging, fun, and useful book!

What’s next for you?

Carol: I think I want to try my hand at something YA.

Robin: I will continue to teach mindfulness techniques to people of all ages, and would love to create Mindfulness for Teens next!


For more information about Carol P. Roman and her books, visit caroleproman.com.

For more information about J. Robin Albertson-Wren or to join her online mindfulness course for elementary school students, visit mind-awake.com.

To learn more about Mindfulness for Kids or to purchase, visit Amazon.com.

Conrad’s Classroom: Fear the Roo

by Conrad J. Storad

What the heck is a Zip? If, like me, you are a graduate of The University of Akron, you already know the answer. I worked five seasons as a student equipment manager for the U of A football team during the late 1970s. That job helped me earn a degree without accruing any student loan debt. Nada. Zero. Zip. But what is a Zip?

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We heard that question from the fans at every college stadium we played in across the country. The answer was obvious once you saw Zippy, our school mascot. A Zip is a kangaroo—an Akron, Ohio variety. For a time, the school’s modern rally phrase was “Fear the Roo.” Huh? A kangaroo mascot? To get some history, go to Zippy’s web site at: uakron.edu/zippy.

Once you learn more about kangaroos, you’ll understand why the creature is a wonderful mascot for a sports team. Kangaroos are strong, agile, and fast. They have keen vision and a superb sense of hearing. Any athlete in search of glory in his or her sport of choice would love to embody the traits of this amazing creature from the down under continent of Australia.

Fully grown red kangaroos use their powerful hind legs to move at speeds of more than 35 miles per hour. They bound in leaps almost 6 feet high that measure up to 25 feet long per hop. In comparison, big jackrabbits in Arizona can jump 5 to 10 feet per hop. How far can you jump in a single hop?

Most young readers probably already know that kangaroos are different in many ways. Kangaroos are marsupial mammals. Humans and tigers and monkeys and elephants and horses and bats are placental mammals. Like all mammals, marsupials are hairy and warm blooded. The mothers produce milk for their young. But marsupials have an outside pouch where their young grow and develop.

A baby kangaroo is called a Joey. The Joey is hairless and only the size of a Lima bean when it is born. The tiny Joey actually must climb from the birth canal into its mother’s pouch. During six months in the mother’s pouch, the Joey will grow 2,000 times bigger than its size at birth.

More than 60 kinds of kangaroos live on Earth today. The musky rat kangaroo is the smallest. A full grown adult weighs less than a pound. Big red roos can weigh up to 175 pounds. Powerful hind legs give the kangaroo its hopping power. But how many legs does a kangaroo have? You say four, of course. Nope. Not according to a 2015 research study published in Biology Letters.

The correct answer is five legs, say scientists from Australia’s University of New South Wales. A walking kangaroo actually propels itself with its muscular tail. The tail acts like a fifth leg. The scientists learned that the tail of a walking kangaroo works as hard as our legs work when we walk down the street. No other animal is known to use its tail in this way.


More hopping fun facts:

A group of kangaroos is called a mob.
A Wallaby is a kangaroo that weighs less than 45 pounds.
A kangaroo has a head like a deer, can stand upright, and can swim.
Kangaroos are browsers. They eat a variety of leaves and vegetation.

Resources to learn more:

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Books:

Big Red Kangaroo by Claire Saxby
Kangaroo to the Rescue (National Geographic Kids) by Moira Rose Donahue
Kangaroos: The Symbol of Australia by M. Martin

Websites:

National Geographic Kids—Kangaroo

Kangaroo Facts and Photos—Bush Heritage—Australia

Basic Facts about Kangaroos—Defenders of Wildlife

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The award-winning author and editor of more than 50 science and nature books for children and young adults, Conrad J. Storad expertly draws young readers into his imaginative and entertaining “classroom” to help them better understand and appreciate the natural world.



Author Spotlight: Patricia M. McClure-Chessier


As an author, educator, healthcare professional, and speaker, Patricia M McClure-Chessier’s life reads like an individual who is very compassionate, caring, inspirational, tenacious, and industrious. Her passion for learning started when she use to play school with the children in the neighborhood, and her role was the teacher. Her love for writing developed through creative writing and poetry in grade school. She admits that writing is therapeutic and fulfilling for her. “I write because I want to preserve myself and leave my legacy in writing,” she says. Patricia’s first published book Losing a Hero to Alzheimer’s: The Story of Pearl was a first-place winner in the Aging/Senior Living and Relationships categories and an Honorable Mention winner in the Biography/Memoir category at the 2016 Royal Dragonfly Book Awards.

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Where did you grow up?
I grew up in the city of Chicago.

Did you read a lot as a child?
Yes! I loved to read as a child. Reading allowed me to expand my imagination. It also gave me a chance to escape from difficult situations going on around me.

What were some of your favorite authors and books?
My favorite books were the Box Car Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner, Beezus & Ramona by Beverly Clearly and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

What did you want to be when you grew up?
I always wanted to be a psychologist or a teacher.

Tell us about some of the jobs you’ve had before you became an author/writer?        
I have worked in the behavioral healthcare field for the past 25 years. After graduating with my Bachelors in Psychology from Eastern Illinois University, I worked in the capacity of a direct care provider, case manager, and director at a residential and vocational facility for people with intellectual disabilities and mental illness. As newlyweds, my husband Eric and I took care of my mother who had Alzheimer’s. Later I had children and went back to school to obtain my masters in business administration and masters in public administration, all while working as an Associate Clinical Director/Senior Leader at a behavioral healthcare outpatient organization. As time progressed, I made the transition to work as a Healthcare Executive Leader in Risk Management and Quality at a behavioral healthcare hospital. Throughout my career, I have written several articles for major newspapers and magazines. Additionally, I am an adjunct professor and teach college healthcare courses.

How did you get started writing?
As a small child I enjoyed writing, especially creative writing and poetry. One of my fondest memories was when I was 12 years old, I wrote a poem titled “He Say She Say” and entered it into a poetry contest for Ebony Jr. Magazine, and it got selected for publishing. My parents were so proud! Also, in grammar school and high school I was on the newspaper and yearbook committee.

Why do you write books?
Thus far, my books have been about my journey and experience caring for my mother who had Alzheimer’s. I want to persuade the readers to do the right thing, inform them based on my professional and personal experience all while entertaining them. I find sharing knowledge fulfilling because the information will be valuable to someone else. I believe we are all helpers to one another on this earth and I relish in doing my part! I want readers to understand how the disease affects the individual, caregiver, and family. I want them to be more equipped to handle the situation.  

What do you like best about writing?
Writing to me is magical! I can be free, transparent, and authentic. All of my writings thus far have been nonfiction. When I write, I start to relive the experience, and sometimes this can be good, but sometimes it can be depressing. Writing about my personal experiences is very therapeutic for me. If my past experience takes me to an emotional state, I know there is more healing that needs to take place. I write because I want to share my journey, love, experience, and highlight what God has brought me through.

What do you find the most challenging about writing?
Finding the time to write is always my biggest challenge! I live a very busy life and I have to manage my time wisely.

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Where do you get your inspiration?
I get my inspiration from my parents. Both of my parents spent valuable time with me. I had a special relationship with the both my parents. Their strengths and weaknesses complimented each other as parents. I believe I got the best of both worlds. Although both my parents are deceased, I get inspired from the legacy they left. Both my parents were goal-oriented, motivated, committed, loyal, and hard-working. My parents believed that I could do anything and convinced me that I could. My husband, children, and friends are a great inspiration to me as well. I also get inspired by watching other successful people. I gravitate towards autobiographies because I am always curious about the story behind the success.  

Tell us about your latest book
In A Caregivers Guide for Alzheimer’s and Dementia: 9 Key Principles, I share how being a caregiver for someone with Alzheimer’s or Dementia can be a stressful and a thankless job. The experienced caregiver will garner additional strategies to help prevent burnout and gain additional insight on how to handle challenging situations. The reader will learn to employ techniques with the person with Alzheimer’s/Dementia when they are noncompliant with active daily living skills or exhibiting unwelcoming behaviors. Additionally, it offers a unique perspective on how to be successful as a caregiver with a limited support system. Everybody can’t be a caregiver, but we can all participate in care giving! The 9 key principles will teach the reader how to survive this tumultuous journey and remain physically and mentally healthy.

What’s next for you?
I have been working on a screen play that I hope to have completed soon. I’m learning writing a screenplay from a book is more challenging than I realized. But I’m up for the challenge.

 

For more information on Patricia M. McClure-Chessier and her books, visit losingaherotoalzheimersthestoryofpearl.com.

 

November is Alzheimer's Awareness Month

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Author Spotlight: Zachary Astrowsky


At the age of 14, Zachary Astrowsky is a high school honors student, an actor, a literacy leader, a public speaker, and the award-winning author of the science fiction adventure, The Uncontrolled.

Where did you grow up?
I’m still growing up in Scottsdale, AZ.

Have you always loved to read?
Yes. My first book series was the Harry Potter series, which I flew through in first grade. Since then, I’ve read many Sci-Fi, dystopian books.

What are some of your favorite books/authors?
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is my favorite book. I got the chance to meet him on Oct. 22nd and it was one of the happiest moments of my life. I also like the I am Number 4 book series by Pittacus Lore, and the Maze Runner series by James Dashner.

What do you do when you’re not writing?
I am a full-time high school student, and I am currently working as a teacher’s assistant in a 7th grade Sunday School class. I have also worked as an actor in two professional musical theatre shows, Carousel and A Christmas Story. Finally, from time to time, I am hired through my talent agent for acting jobs. Being paid to do what I love is amazing.

What are your career goals?
Someday I hope to be an astrophysicist and a writer.

How did you get started writing?  
I had a lot of cool ideas when I was younger so I started jotting them down. Later, I began joining those ideas which ended in the creation and completion of my novel.

What do you like best about writing?
Writing can be so emotional and meaningful; I like that it can change someone’s perspective on life which I find to be an amazing thing. Writing also encompasses so many genres, which is why I am always encouraging the students I speak to at school events to read more and to write more.

What do you find the most challenging about writing?
The time it takes to edit is the most challenging part of writing. However, I have learned the importance of being flexible. For example, I had to change many paragraphs, and even plot lines, when writing my book but of course, it’s worth it in the end when the story is well written and it holds the reader’s attention.

What do you think makes a good story?
One that can keep a reader interested and turning each page of the book.

Where do you get your inspiration?
In the beginning, my friends and family provided me a lot of inspiration. Lately, it has been my readers and the kids I speak to at my speaking events that have been inspiring me to write more.

What is your favorite reading/writing snack?
Cheez-Its, Goldfish crackers, and pudding.

What writing advice do you have for young, aspiring authors?
Keep working your hardest at writing as it can influence someone’s life and the end goal of having a completed novel is worth the effort.

If you could spend a day in any imaginary world from a book you’ve read, where would it be and why?
All of my favorite books are dystopian-themed, so I would spend a day on any crazy adventure if given the opportunity.


Tell us about your latest book/project.
I am currently working on a sequel to The Uncontrolled. With my busy school and sports schedule, it has been difficult finding the time needed, but I hope that will change soon.

In The Uncontrolled, the robotic way people smile is John's first clue that things are not quite as they seem. His parents are forced to tell him about a plot so abominable that it upends his world. At age 14, everyone is brainwashed with a tracking device by a hidden society called Tracker for Globe or T.F.G. John and his friends learn about the organization when it is their turn to be implanted with the device. Over time, plot twists come into play and John starts seeing visions of the future. He also finds out about a second secret group, the Renegades, who work together with John to take on the T.F.G. in an exciting and unexpected battle.

Is there anything we didn’t ask that you’d like people to know about you and/or your books?
I am very appreciative of all the support I have received from my family, friends, and readers. I also feel very fortunate that Reading is Fundamental has partnered with me so together, we can motivate more children to read. When I am not playing soccer or the drums, I really do enjoy speaking to children about the importance of reading, writing, and finding a passion in something that inspires them.

For more information about Zachary Astrowsky and his books, visit theuncontrolled.wixsite.com/website.

Q&A with Bethanie Murguia


by Julianne Black


“I wanted readers to be able to make up their own minds about unicorns and magic. Children so often hear the word “No.” This book asks, “What do you think?”

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Do you believe in magic, like when you see something fantastic out of the corner of your eye? Was it a horse in a hat … or was it a unicorn? I was fortunate to have caught up with Bethanie Murguia, author of Do You Believe in Unicorns? (Candlewick). She had some words of wisdom on imagination superpowers, the creative process, and yes, finding unicorns!

Q: I received a copy of Do You Believe in Unicorns? to review and was immediately excited to share it with my 6-year-old! Tell me about how the idea for the elusive unicorn came about, but also about the concept of finding what you expect to see making its way from idea to print.

A: It began with the image of a character in a hat. It could be either a horse or a unicorn—but there’s no way to be sure. I love that the hat creates possibility. Because it’s ambiguous, our own beliefs, experiences, and knowledge become a big part of the story. I wanted readers to be able to make up their own minds about unicorns and magic. Children so often hear the word “No.” This book asks, “What do you think?” It was a vague idea in the beginning, though, and it took many, many revisions to get to the final book. I have 52 versions of this story on my computer. It’s daunting to work on a project when you don’t know where it’s headed, but seeing it work out well is also a good reminder to have faith in the creative process.

Q: Many of your books, including The Too-Scary Story, I Feel Five! and Princess! Fairy! Ballerina! are centered around creativity and imagination like little reminders about the power of wonder and enchantment. Can you tell us your earliest recollection of when you realized your imagination was your superpower?

A: I love this idea of imagination as a superpower. As an adult, I recognize the power of imagination and what a gift it is to be immersed in creating or reading a book. As a child, I don’t know that I paid much attention to it, but I realize now that I definitely had an active imagination as a child. When I was seven, we moved into a house that was over 150 years old. It was so magical to me, with stairs that went nowhere, secret spaces behind tiny doors, and hatches in the wood floors that I was sure led to treasure. I spent years trying to talk my parents into ruining the floors to pull up those nailed down hatches, but they never agreed. It was probably a favor in the long run because it kept the possibility of treasure alive in my mind in the same way the hat allows for the possibility of unicorns. I think possibility is really powerful.

Q: Your illustration style has been described as ”Self-assured pen, ink, and watercolor illustrations….” by Kirkus Reviews. I have to say the description “self-assured” must be music to your ears. As an artist myself I know how intimidating it can be to put your work out there! Tell me about this style of hard and defined line paired with soft shadow and minimal detail. What kind of background can you give us to how your technique evolved?

A:
I’ve been playing with pen and ink since I was in elementary school. I was obsessed with calligraphy and I attribute any perceived “self-assuredness” to years of repeating letterforms over and over and over. But I also adore watercolor because it’s so unpredictable. Combining the two gives control of important details while also allowing for looseness. With that said, I’m always trying out new ways of working. My first books were done with nib pens, but I’ve been experimenting with bamboo pens and brushes because they have very different line qualities. I used both a nib pen and bamboo pen for Do You Believe in Unicorns?.

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Q: Your website is absolutely adorable. I love that your ”About” section is told in snapshots and text and reminds me I need to journal more in my sketchbook! Do you think on paper in doodles and half-created scribble ideas or do you create the ideas in your mind prior to them ever seeing paper? What is your preferred method of harnessing all those loose possibilities?

A: I always doodle! I wish I had a clear picture in my mind, but that’s not the case. I just keep drawing until characters or ideas begin to gel. And sometimes, it takes months or years. I keep files of ideas that haven’t come together … yet. I draw and write and do thumbnails in sketchbooks until I have words and images for a few spreads at least. Then, I start trying to make a book. I also have a giant corkboard in my studio where I hang bits and pieces to see how they might fit together.

Q: One of your blog posts states, “Whenever I have the opportunity to speak about the creative process—whether to children or adults—I usually offer up two pieces of advice: 1. Be a collector 2. Be an experimenter.” Can you elaborate a bit about how this relates to daily life and give an example of a major win in your life to which you can attribute those two points?

A: I think all creative wins require some form of this—collecting raw materials from the world around us and then experimenting with how to put them together to convey what we want to say. I’m always looking for ideas, keeping sketchbooks of moments that are interesting to me—sketches, snippets of conversations, etc.—anything that makes me feel something. These become building blocks for stories. In my case, it’s rarely a lightning bolt that strikes, but rather, continuing to gather little pieces of inspiration.

Q: Any projects in the works for which we should be on the lookout? Do You Believe in Unicorns? was just released in September, but what’s next?

A: Yes! I just finished the final art for The Favorite Book, another collaboration with Candlewick Press. It’s a picture book that explores how we make choices, allowing readers to pick all sorts of favorites along the way. I’m very excited to see this one in print (Fall 2019). And, I recently launched a site, findmoremagic.com, that’s an extension of Do You Believe in Unicorns?. I wanted to create an experience that would expand on the themes of the book. The site has fun DIY activities, a unicorn mystery, and a UnicornCam app for spotting unicorns (iOS).

Bethanie Murguia is represented by Rubin Pfeffer at Rubin Pfeffer Content and you can learn more about her at aquapup.com.

Julianne DiBlasi Black has written and illustrated several books, including Sleep Sweet, the multi-award winning Augmented Reality picture book. bookturnip.com.



Author Spotlight: Tracey Hecht


“We can be bold in adventure. We can be brave in challenge. We can be friends.”

The Nocturnals series features three unlikely friends: Dawn, a serious fox, Tobin, a sweet pangolin, and Bismark, the loud mouthed, pint-sized sugar glider. The stories all play out in their nighttime world with teamwork, friendship and humor in every adventure.

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Where did you grow up?
I grew up in the suburbs of San Francisco but knew even when I was young that I wanted to move and live in New York City. As soon as I finished college, I moved to New York and for the most part have been there ever since.

Did you read a lot as a child?
Yes! I loved to read, and I remember in elementary school choosing many recess periods to sit in my classroom and finish a book. I remember once in sixth grade staying to read Where the Red Fern Grows, and when everyone came back from break, I was sobbing on a bean bag in the reading corner of Mrs. Lapachet’s homeroom! That was a bit embarrassing.

Who are some of your favorite authors/books?
I love Flora and Ulysses, by Kate DiCamillo. For me as a reader, it is immensely engaging, and for me as a writer, it is immeasurably inspiring. Kate DiCamillo’s characters and story lines have always possessed poignant clarity and honesty. I also love the Save the Story series. The best book is a book that leaves you wanting more, and that’s just what Antigone from the Save the Story series did for me. My 25-year-old actor/writer/poet daughter gave my 9-year-old video game/soccer-playing son the Save the Story version of Antigone for Christmas last year. He read it, I read it, we read it aloud, and then we ordered the nine other books from the Save the Story series. These books captivated my entire family.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
I’ve always been a writer, since I was young. As a child, I also wanted to be an illustrator, and I remember using oil paints in particular to create characters, mostly human at that time. I was an English/creative writing major in college and found jobs from early on that allowed me to write.

Tell us about some of the jobs you had before you became a writer.
I had many jobs! From my early days of babysitting to office administrator and temp jobs in high school. I was a waitress, and I worked in advertising and marketing as well. Then, when I was 40, I sold my business and took a year off. I spent the year thinking about what I wanted to do next. I knew I wanted to write and create, and I also believe strongly in the value of children’s literature as both a form of entertainment and a cognitive tool for children’s development. I decided to write a children’s series that recognized storytelling more broadly. It was over the course of that year that The Nocturnals brand was born.

How did you get started writing?
It’s fun to think of the progression. It all started with the challenge of putting my kids to bed! I thought it would be fun to do a series for kids based on characters that woke up right when kids were just going to sleep. The Nocturnals animals came from that basic idea, and that’s when the series started to take shape. I truly remember sitting on a deck in Maine early one morning four years ago. There was a heavy fog over the lake, and I was the only one in my family awake. I sketched the first ideas for The Nocturnals that morning. Now I’m surrounded by an incredible team and all of our amazing readers, librarians, teachers, and bookstores, and I’m filled with many more ideas of what we’ll do next.

Why do you write books?
I wanted to create a world that children were usually excluded from—nighttime! And once I decided on nocturnal animals, the rest came from there. An exciting aspect—and one that actually surprised me—was how much I like the research. Learning about unusual animals is one of the most fun things about the series. I love using the physical traits and unique characteristics of the animals to help develop characters and enhance plot.

What do you like best about writing?
One of the main reasons I write is to encourage families to incorporate reading together into their routines. Reading aloud is not only vital for a child’s critical thinking and development, but it’s fun and a great opportunity for family bonding. To extend my belief in reading as the center of shared family entertainment, my team and I partnered with The Wyndham Grand Hotel Group for a nationwide family program, Reconnected, a Family Experience—a program that addresses the need for family quality time over screen time—and my first book, The Mysterious Abductions, was included as part of the program for families on vacation. 

What do you find the most challenging about writing?
The moment right before you start. As soon as I am writing, I’m happy, but most days the moments leading up to writing are when I begin to feel daunted. I just have to force myself to dive in!

What do you think makes a good story?
I think rhythmic voices make for compelling stories, especially when reading aloud. When I started writing The Nocturnals, I had just finished writing for film and television. At the time, I was inspired to write a dialogue-based book series in a kind of cinematic vernacular, as I thought kids would find it fun to read. I wrote the three main characters of The Nocturnals in a 3-2-1 staccato. It gives the books a distinct tone, which I love!

Where do you get your inspiration?
Everywhere. People, places, conversations, events, books, television. My imagination can run away pretty quickly, and all it takes is some tiny instigator to get it started. I use my phone less than most people as a result. I like the empty time—the time when I’m not doing anything or looking at anything when my mind can run away.

Tell us about your latest book/project.
My latest book, The Peculiar Possum, is the third addition to my Grow & Read program. It’s a story on the importance of staying true to oneself and not being afraid to be “peculiar” or unique. The story is told with plenty of humor while underscoring the importance of respecting differences in others—a key lesson for children in this age group. My team and I have also developed The Kindness Game. It’s a game designed to support literacy skills and social and emotional learning. The game is ideal for incorporating into bullying-prevention programs and concludes with a student-lead exercise in identifying kind words and behaviors to promote a culture of kindness in schools and libraries.

What’s next for you?
I’m writing two more early readers right now. One deals with cheating and wanting to win; I think many kids can relate to that desire. And the other is about imagination, how letting your mind wander can be great entertainment.

Is there anything we didn’t ask that you’d like people to know about you and/or
your books?
My favorite time to read is on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon when I’ve finished any weekend work and I don’t have to worry about starting anything new. I love to read with a snack, and depending on my mood, salty or sweet, I have three favorite reading snacks:

1. Homemade popcorn (popped in a pot, not an air popper) with lime, butter, and salt
2. Supersize whole-wheat scone with raspberry jam
3. Either Mother’s Chocolate Chip Cookies or Nabisco’s Chips Ahoy with mint tea


For more information about Tracey Hecht and her books, visit NocturnalsWorld.com.

Author Spotlight: Lora Rozler


“Like many authors, my books are very personal to me, creations that I have nursed from their infancy until they are shared with the world. Readers will find that they can enjoy my stories on many levels: as literal stories, symbolic allegories, educational tools, and of course, bedtime treats.”

Where did you grow up?
I was born in Israel and moved to Toronto when I was 11 years old. My family had just emigrated from Russia when I was born. I grew up weaved into a mix of cultures which taught me to have an appreciation for differences. But I can honestly say, having lived in Canada most of my life, I feel very much Canadian at heart.

What were some of your favorite authors and books?
I loved (and still enjoy) Shel Silverstein’s color-outside-the-lines style of poems and stories. One of my absolute favourite books by him is The Giving Tree. Also, I’ve always enjoyed fairy tales (but didn’t we all?). Charlotte’s Web, The Babysitter’s Club series and The Outsiders were some of my other favourites when I was growing up.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
I’ve wanted to be a teacher since I was 5 years old. At some point that changed to wanting to become an interior designer, a lawyer, and even a psychologist. I finally opted for my first love and chose a career in teaching.

Tell us about some of the jobs you’ve had before you became a writer.
Some years into my teaching career, I began writing poems and stories for my students. I guess you can say that writing became a calling after I began to see how important storytelling was as an educational tool. But then, I also learned that books added a fun element as well. I’m delighted that I had a built-in audience before I even published my first book!

How did you get started writing?
I wrote quite a bit as a teenager (mostly poetry) but found an audience for my writing in the classroom, writing mainly to support areas of study at school. I eventually discovered a terrific outlet to share my work with others—on my blog (wordsonalimb.com) and associated social media. This allowed me to create a digital library of some of my classroom content. In fact, several years ago, I wrote a poem to teach students about the power of words and their impact. It began to receive positive feedback from students, parents, colleagues, and online subscribers. It soon took a life of its own as an animation and eventually as my first a picture book, Words. This was the breakthrough that marked the beginning of my writing journey.

Why do you write books?
I love taking an idea and molding it to life with words and images. I also love being able to convey important messages through literature. These notions shine through in my book Freshly Baked Pie. It is a simple story, based on a poem that I wrote, that, through effective illustrations and whimsical writing, both gently teaches a lesson and entertains readers.

What do you like best about writing?
I love the creativity and flexibility that writing offers. Anything and everything can exist in our imagination. Real life may have boundaries, but stories, not so much. I revel in seeing a concept, that exists only as a mental sketch, come alive through words and images. I also appreciate the way an author can arrange letters, words, and sentences into a composition that evokes strong emotions—joy, sadness, surprise, wonder or inspiration. I also feel that picture books give me the freedom to take a lyrical form of writing, like poetry, and transform it into a story that can be enjoyed at bedtime. There is something unique about being able to create art from a simple idea.

What do you find the most challenging about writing?
Writing requires commitment, dedication, and most of all, discipline in order to take it beyond a hobby. So I have learned to carve out time from my busy schedule to meet self-imposed deadlines. Sometimes I find that ideas flow through my head faster than I have time to devote to them, and that can be quite frustrating.

What do you think makes a good story?
I think a good story has a redeemable value, something the reader can take away, all the while being entertained. Also, a good story has an element that the reader can relate to, whether it be a character or an event. That connection between literature and real life experiences make the story more meaningful to the reader.

Where do you get your inspiration?
My inspiration comes from working with kids, my students, and my children. Sometimes an idea strikes amid a busy, noisy day. Other times a vision sneaks up in quiet moments of contemplation. My book, Lucky Me, stemmed from a theme we discussed in school. It was around the time of Thanksgiving and we had a great conversation about gratitude and things we felt blessed to have in our lives. This inspired me to write a poem for my class, and eventually I wanted to share this message of gratitude with a wider audience. Regardless of where in the world we each came from, and what stories we each had to tell, we had one thing in common—a sense of gratitude. This element inspired me to incorporate thank you in many languages. Several arduous months later, we published a truly global and memorable, sweet picture book. It was a hop, skip, and a jump from conversation to message-filled pages.

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Tell us about your latest book/project.
My most recent title, The Three Witty Goats Gruff is a modern adaptation of the fairytale, Three Billy Goats Gruff. Once again, the idea came from a simple math lesson about measurement and patterning. My students loved learning math through this story of the three goats! The math unit became my best-selling teacher resource package on a website I love to contribute to, called Teachers Pay Teachers. Once again, I felt compelled to transform this simple lesson into a book that can both teach and entertain kids all over the world. In my remake of the story, I proposed an alternative way for the goats to solve their dilemma—rather than using force to subdue their bully, they use their wit to outmaneuver the greedy old troll. As well, I incorporated a female goat as the heroine of the story as girls are seldom depicted as the hero, and I felt it was time to turn the tables! The book also contains plenty of fun learning opportunities for young children. I am so pleased to have completed and published this title.

What’s next for you?
I am currently working on a compilation book that features many of my poems and short stories that I composed throughout my writing and teaching career. Obviously not all of them can make it into a full picture book! But I wanted to share them in the shorter format just the same. I feel this book will be a landmark piece on a personal and professional level. Sometimes writers can feel vulnerable when they compile an anthology of personal thoughts in words. For me, it is especially the case since I will be sharing work that spans from my early years as a writer to some of my latest poems and short stories. We are currently deciding on the illustrations and book design, but it won’t be long! I am also working on converting my published books into a digital format so parents all over can swipe through my stories on their tablets before bedtime.

Is there anything we didn’t ask that you’d like people to know about you and/or your books?
I want your readers to know that, like many authors, my books are very personal to me, creations that I have nursed from their infancy until they are shared with the world. Readers will find that they can enjoy my stories on many levels: as literal stories, symbolic allegories, educational tools, and of course, bedtime treats.

For more information about Lora Rozler and her books, visit www.lorarozler.com and www.wordsonalimb.com.


Author Spotlight: Nic Stone


"Poignant and necessary… a novel vital to young adults’ lives that examines the intersections of sexuality, gender, and race—issues and blurred boundaries that teens grapple with in a society that favors neat and tidy boxes." -Booklist, Starred

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Where did you grow up? 
Mostly Norcross, GA. It's about twelve minutes north of Atlanta.

Did you read a lot as a child? 
I did! 

What were some of your favorite authors and books? 
I lived for the Encyclopedia Brown books by Donald J. Sobol and anything with Judy Blume, Roald Dahl or Louis Sachar on the cover. Also wanted to be a spy like Louise Fitzhugh's Harriet and cure strange childhood quirks like Betty MacDonald's Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. Then I hit seventh grade, Harry Potter busted his way onto the scene, and that was all she wrote. 

What did you want to be when you grew up? 
I don't think I really knew. This is where the whole “representation matters” piece comes in because I think there were occupations I was interested in (lawyer/judge, author, plastic surgeon) but I didn't see anyone who looked like me actually DOING those jobs ... so subconsciously, I didn't really think I could do them either. For a while, I wanted to be an astronaut, but that was all because of Mae Jemison. I figured out the writer thing eventually.

Tell us about some of the jobs you’ve had before you became a writer. 
What job have I NOT had is a better question! I've worked in childcare and retail, I've been a personal trainer, I've managed a formal gown store, I've sold shoes ... I've even worked in Israel designing Holy Land pilgrimages for American tourists. It's been wild. 

How did you get started writing? 
Email updates during my first summer in Israel. I would do these extensive things with pictures and all that. People loved them. Then I moved into lifestyle blogging. Took me a minute to try my hand at fiction because I was convinced I didn't "have the imagination for it," but clearly, I was wrong. LOL.

How do you write books? 
Very methodically. I spend a good bit of time jotting storyish things—plot points, character quirks/traits, lines of dialogue, you name it—in a composition notebook, and then when there's enough stuff in there, I put things in order and build an outline. Then I draft. Then I revise. 

What do you like best about writing? 
I literally am paid to make things up and/or express my opinion. What could be better?

What do you find the most challenging about writing?
At this point: making time to DO it. 

What do you think makes a good story? 
Solid characters that transform over the course of a believable plot taking place in an immersive setting and driven by emotion-tugging stakes. 

Where do you get your inspiration? 
Literally any and everywhere. 

Tell us about your latest book. 
Odd One Out (Crown Books for Young Readers) follows three high schoolers trying to navigate the intersections of friendship and romance, and figure out who it's okay to love. It's about questioning and attraction and sexuality and labels (or the lack thereof), and it's really my love letter to my teen self, who needed a book just like it. 

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What’s next for you? 
MORE BOOKS! And maybe some other stuff too ... stay tuned!

Is there anything we didn’t ask that you’d like people to know about you and/or your books? 
You didn't ask my favorite word or what I like to do in my free time! The former is "sesquipedalian" and the latter: sleep. 


For more information about Nic Stone and her books, visit www.nicstone.info.
Photo by Nigel Livingstone.


Visit Nic Stone at the Miami Book Fair! November 11-18, 2018 at Miami Dade College.

Nic is presenting Odd One Out on Sunday, Nov. 18, at 1 p.m. at the MDC Live Arts Lab

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For more than three decades, Miami Book Fair has been committed to fostering a love of reading in children of all ages. This includes Miami Book Fair’s literacy initiative Read to Learn Books for Free, in partnership with The Children’s Trust, which distributes of thousands of free children's books around Miami-Dade county via its bookshelves; during the 2017-18 school year, over 91,711 books were distributed to the children of Miami-Dade County.

Additionally, MBF hosts over 10,000 school kids – elementary, middle and high school students from all over Miami-Dade County to listen to and meet their favorite authors – many of whom leave with free books.

All-aged fairgoers will enjoy the lively Street Fair and Children’s Alley, a pop-up children’s learning activities village boasting live performances; and, students in K-12 enjoy special author presentations and workshops at the Fair and in their schools as part of the Generation Genius program, and college students will meet with selected authors for in-depth discussions on specific subjects as part of the Fair’s Classroom Collaborations program.

Tickets: Free for kids; $5 12-17 and seniors and $8 general admission

For more information please visit miamibookfair.com

Story Monsters Ink Announces New Column from Judy Newman, President of Scholastic Book Clubs

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Each month, Scholastic Book Clubs distributes fliers to more than 800,000 teachers with images of colorful, promising books for their students, who enthusiastically select which ones they want to order and read. According to Judy Newman, President and Reader-in-Chief of Scholastic Book Clubs, a division of Scholastic, the global children’s publishing, education, and media company, teachers do the most important work on the planet: educating children and inspiring them to see themselves as readers. “At Scholastic Book Clubs, teachers are our partners in our efforts to get more books into all kids’ hands,” Newman says. “Our model is all about choice. And we know from the Scholastic Kids & Family Reading Report, when kids choose their books, they read more. It’s about making books and reading fun and accessible to all.”

To continue that effort, Newman has begun a monthly column in Story Monsters Ink magazine. She will share stories of her own and resources for educators to encourage a joy and love of reading in all children. Her first column will appear in the November, 2018 issue of the magazine.

The column, entitled “Life of a Reader,” similar to Newman’s own weekly Scholastic Book Clubs blog, is one more way people can connect with Scholastic Book Clubs and Story Monsters Ink magazine and learn about books they might want to read or authors they want to know more about—and get behind the scenes glimpses into the world of children’s literacy. “I am so honored that Judy will be writing a monthly column in Story Monsters Ink,” says Linda F. Radke, a former special education teacher, president of Story Monsters LLC and publisher of Story Monsters Ink. “She is a champion of children’s literacy and we share the same goal: to encourage and inspire a love of reading in young minds.”

Story Monsters Ink® is an award-winning magazine that offers the latest news on children's books and products, celebrity and independent author profiles, book reviews, activities, reading guides, special featured columns, and more! It’s a monster of a magazine, filled with great reads for growing minds! To learn more, visit www.StoryMonsters.com. To learn more about Judy Newman and Scholastic Book Clubs, visit www.judynewmanatscholastic.com.

Author Spotlight: Kiersten White


"Exquisitely disturbing. The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein is a beautiful tapestry of horror, sewn together with threads of madness, obsession, and murder. Kiersten White has written a masterful and monstrous retelling." — STEPHANIE GARBER, #1 New York Times and internationally bestselling author of Caraval and Legendary


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Where did you grow up? 
In Utah. I’ve lived in San Diego, California, for fourteen years now.

Did you read a lot as a child? 
Yes! Every chance and every thing I could.

What were some of your favorite authors and books? 
I loved Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery and The Redwall series by Brian Jacques. They were some of my first favorites.

What did you want to be when you grew up? 
I always wanted to be an author. It worked out!

Tell us about some of the jobs you’ve had before you became a writer. 
In high school I worked in a sandwich shop. In college I worked as an editor for professors. And after college I wrote articles for websites before I sold my first book.

How did you get started writing? 
I always wanted to write. When I graduated from college, I had my first baby a couple of weeks later, so I was home with her while my husband did graduate school. He bought me a notebook and said I should start writing the book I was always talking about. It took me two years, but it showed me I could do it!

Why do you write books?
I genuinely love the thrill of discovering a story and the puzzle of pulling it all together. There’s nothing I would rather do.

What do you find the most challenging about writing? 
I have three kids, and sometimes it can be hard to have enough quiet in my brain for a story to take root. But once I get momentum, I love drafting and editing.

What do you think makes a good story?
Characters who you don’t necessarily always like, but who you always understand and care about.

Where do you get your inspiration? 
Movies, music, other books, folklore, history, and travel.

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Tell us about your latest book. 
The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein is a retelling of the original novel Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. My version makes Elizabeth Lavenza, Victor Frankenstein’s childhood companion and fiancée, the main character. With Victor missing and her place in the Frankenstein house threatened, Elizabeth sets out to find him, determined to let no one—and no thing—stop her.

What’s next for you? 
Slayer, a Buffy the Vampire Slayer spinoff, comes out in January!

Visit Kiersten White at the Miami Book Fair! November 11-18, 2018 at Miami Dade College.

Kiersten is presenting on the Tales of Transformation: Thrilling YA Fantasy panel on Saturday, Nov. 17, at noon w/Dhonielle Clayton (The Belles), Somaiya Daud (Mirage), Megan Shepard (Grim Lovelies) in the MDC Live Arts Lab. 

 

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For more than three decades, Miami Book Fair has been committed to fostering a love of reading in children of all ages. This includes Miami Book Fair’s literacy initiative Read to Learn Books for Free, in partnership with The Children’s Trust, which distributes of thousands of free children's books around Miami-Dade county via its bookshelves; during the 2017-18 school year, over 91,711 books were distributed to the children of Miami-Dade County.

Additionally, MBF hosts over 10,000 school kids – elementary, middle and high school students from all over Miami-Dade County to listen to and meet their favorite authors – many of whom leave with free books.

All-aged fairgoers will enjoy the lively Street Fair and Children’s Alley, a pop-up children’s learning activities village boasting live performances; and, students in K-12 enjoy special author presentations and workshops at the Fair and in their schools as part of the Generation Genius program, and college students will meet with selected authors for in-depth discussions on specific subjects as part of the Fair’s Classroom Collaborations program.

Tickets: Free for kids; $5 12-17 and seniors and $8 general admission

For more information please visit miamibookfair.com

Author Spotlight: Alex Beard


Can warthogs fly? Do tigers eat broccoli? For answers, follow along as Warthog lies his way to the throne in this timeless, yet most timely tale from the Watering Hole. With a nod to Aesop and Kipling, The Lying King has lessons for everyone, from the playground to the boardroom and beyond.

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Where did you grow up? 
I grew up in NYC in the 1970s, back when the city was a little grittier than it is today, but wonderful for its eccentricity.

Did you read a lot as a child? 
I didn’t really start reading voraciously until I was about 10 years old. I was swept away by Roald Dahl’s Danny, Champion of the World, and from there it was off to the literary races.

What are some of your favorite authors and books? 
I’m still a big fan of Roald Dahl, but I also like Kipling and Conrad, in addition I’m a big fan of the genre of anthropomorphic parables, from Animal Farm to Watership Down, Yertle the Turtle and Maus.

What did you want to be when you grew up? 
I always wanted to be an artist and author, which I am, but I also would have liked to play third base for the Yankees. I never got the call from George Steinbrenner, though. Oh well.

Tell us about some of the jobs you’ve had before you became a writer. 
I don’t know that I’ve ever really had a job as one might think of it, but I’ve been working pretty hard on the whole artist/author role for quite a while now ... all the way back to my first solo exhibit in SoHo when I was in my early 20s, and while sometimes it’s a little hand to mouth, at least there’s no retirement age.

How did you get started writing? 
I started writing because I was presumptuous enough to think that what I had to write was worth reading, and while my wife would tell you that more often than not what I have to say is hot air, I still think I’ve got a few thoughts worth conveying.

Why do you write books? 
I write books to try to impart truth, and I use wildlife as a means of doing so, because I believe that it’s easier to reflect back on ourselves through the eyes of animals than it is by using people. 

What do you like best about writing? 
I like the process of chewing on a thought until I can refine it down into its most simple and concise form. It’s a little like putting together a puzzle until every piece fits just right to complete the whole.

What do you find the most challenging about writing? 
The most challenging aspect is having something worth saying in the first place, and then working on it until the message is conveyed in its least pedantic fashion. It can be hard not to get too preachy, but I learned early to kill my darlings, and that’s been quite helpful.

What do you think makes a good story? 
The best stories are those that transcend the time in which they’re written. A good story  is one that entertains and teaches at the same time.

Where do you get your inspiration? 
I draw my inspiration from Nature. I use animals to soften what I think to be particularly pointed subjects, and try to search for truth and beauty (even when it’s ugly) in what I observe.

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Tell us about your latest book. 
My latest book, The Lying King, is a parable about the rise and fall of the archetypal demagogue. At a time when it seems that truth is on the defensive, The Lying King is my version of what happens in the end to the serial liar. Hint, it never ends well for the liar!

What’s next for you? 
As soon as I’m done touring to promote The Lying King, I’m off to the coast of East Africa to dive with the whale sharks, to spend some time with my family, and to listen to the wind blowing off the Indian Ocean. After that, it’s all wait-and-see pudding!

Is there anything we didn’t ask that you’d like people to know about you and/or your books?
I’m not sure what more to say about me and my books, but I would like to leave you all with the following three things:

1) Tell the truth!

2) Expect OTHERS to tell the truth, and

3) Be honest with yourself.

If we all do those three things, I think the world would be a better place.

For more information about Alex Beard and his books, visit alexbeardstudio.com.

Visit Alex Beard at the Miami Book Fair! November 11-18, 2018 at Miami Dade College.

Alex is presenting The Lying King at noon on Sunday, Nov 18
at Mr. Wembley’s Storytorium in Children’s Alley.

For more than three decades, Miami Book Fair has been committed to fostering a love of reading in children of all ages. This includes Miami Book Fair’s literacy initiative Read to Learn Books for Free, in partnership with The Children’s Trust, which distributes of thousands of free children's books around Miami-Dade county via its bookshelves; during the 2017-18 school year, over 91,711 books were distributed to the children of Miami-Dade County.

Additionally, MBF hosts over 10,000 school kids – elementary, middle and high school students from all over Miami-Dade County to listen to and meet their favorite authors – many of whom leave with free books.

All-aged fairgoers will enjoy the lively Street Fair and Children’s Alley, a pop-up children’s learning activities village boasting live performances; and, students in K-12 enjoy special author presentations and workshops at the Fair and in their schools as part of the Generation Genius program, and college students will meet with selected authors for in-depth discussions on specific subjects as part of the Fair’s Classroom Collaborations program.

Tickets: Free for kids; $5 12-17 and seniors and $8 general admission

For more information please visit miamibookfair.com