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: 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.

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.


Story Monsters Ink September Book Reviews


Check out our newest book reviews!

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Bear Moves
by Ben Bailey Smith and Sav Akyuz (Candlewick Entertainment) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil
Well, put on the music and move over, cause Bear’s got some moves and he doesn’t mind sharing them. This is a fun, feel-good read. Bear introduces the reader to music and dance, and the illustrations are sure to add laughter to the beat. (Ages 2-5)

Stick
by Irene Dickson (Nosy Crow) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil
The simplest of things can often bring the greatest rewards. Following all the joys a boy and his dog can share with a simple stick. You can throw it, balance with it, float it down a stream, and draw pictures in the sand. And we agree, building friendships is the very best of all. (Ages 2-5)

Try a Little Kindness
by Henry Cole (Scholastic Press) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil
The sweet, rhythmic flow of the text, and soft, easy appeal of the illustrations make this a great feel-good reading experience that can linger for a lifetime. Each page features a different way to be a good person, like using proper manners, telling someone they are special, or sharing a treat! The opening page will catch the heart and quickly become a childhood mantra. (Ages 3-5)

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Mae’s First Day Of School
by Kate Berube (Harry N. Abrams) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil
I bet we all remember our first day of school. Oh, we may not remember the details, but that cold clammy feeling that stirs every time we face a new venture, reminds us. Life is never as hard when we encounter it with a friend. Mae is afraid to go to school. Riddled by the monstrous “what if” thoughts, she hides and determines not to go. But, lucky for Mae, she meets others who are just as frightened as she is. And together, they are able to overcome. A great reminder for all of us. Let’s grab a hand and do all those wonderful things we wish we could do! The illustrations are simple and sweet, and capture the heart. (Ages 3-7)

Storm
by Sam Usher (Templar) Reviewer: Larissa Juliano
Wind and thunderstorms can be cozy, exciting, and evoke lots of adventures—inside and outside of the house! A little boy and his grandpa go searching for a kite to fly on a windy, stormy day and throughout their search, reminisce about other experiences they had together as they bump into special mementos. A beautiful story that will inspire children to look for adventures in nooks and crannies, and most importantly, with their families. (Ages 3-7)

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I Am Actually a Penguin
by Sean Taylor, Kasia Matyjaszek (Templar) Reviewer: Larissa Juliano
Playing dress-up is a childhood experience that will never get old and this is a funny, sweet, and
completely relatable story about a little girl who loves this pastime. Her imagination, creativity, and perseverance is adorable (and admirable) as she really embraces becoming her costume—in this case, a penguin. The illustrations are vibrant, fun, and different with the use of mixed media and multiple picture and plot points on each page. Readers will enjoy reading this delightful story and then quickly running to their own dress-up box. (Ages 3-7)

Duck Gets a Job
by Sonny Ross (Templar) Reviewer: Sherry L. Hoffman
This is a story about being yourself and not a carbon copy of the vast majority. Sonny Ross creates a combo of creative words and illustrations to entertain young readers with his tale. Children will delight in the silliness of Duck as he takes readers through the steps of getting a job in a big city. Duck soon discovers that spreadsheets are not his cup of tea, so he opts for a job that fits his special gifts and passion. A perfect read-aloud for discussing sequencing and introducing job skills and goals, this picture book really fits the bill! (Ages 3-7)

Little Robot Alone
by Patricia MacLachlan, Emily MacLachlan Charest, Matt Phelan (HMH Books for Young Readers)
Reviewer: Sherry L. Hoffman
Little Robot Alone is a story about a robot curing boredom by using his imagination, technical skills, and some elbow grease. The authors and illustrator have created a story that showcases the importance of friendship. The occasional rhyming text intermixed with the imagery produced from the descriptive wording allows readers to purely enjoy the robot’s surroundings and appreciate the soft, dreamlike illustrations. What a wonderful text to use with young children to bring up the topic of befriending others and discussing what it feels like to be alone. This profound story is more than the superficial idea of a robot creating a friend; digging deeper, teachers and parents can easily help readers have text connections by incorporating this story into lessons about having positive character traits and finding them in others. (Ages 3-7)

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Rock What Ya Got
by Samantha Berger, Kerascoet (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil
I love the opening of this story! It opens wide the imagination and excitement rushes in. Carrying a powerful message, each page delights with its endearing illustrations. For anyone who has ever whispered, or shouted, “If only....” Happiness comes when we own who we are, and success follows when you can rock what ya got. This is a fun presentation for kids who are finding, and claiming their own unique spot in this iffy world. (Ages 4-7)

Snail Mail
by Samantha Berger, Julia Patton (Running Press Kids) Reviewer: Larissa Juliano
We’ve all heard and used the term “snail mail” for ages now, but Samantha Berger and Julia Patton have adorably and brilliantly put pictures and a story to this cute term. Snails actually delivering mail! Berger captures our heart from the beginning with a little girl mailing a letter across the country, and the long and exhausting trek the determined snails must make to get it to her recipient. The story also takes the reader on a journey through special landmarks of America with sunsets and rainbows in every backdrop. Snail Mail will teach many, and remind more, of how exciting it feels to run to the mailbox and have a special delivery waiting inside. (Ages 4-8)

Energy: Physical Science for Kids
by Andi Diehn, Hui Li (Nomad Press) Reviewer: Dr. Dawn Menge
Energy, energy everywhere! This is an educational book to help young readers learn about the many forms of energy. The illustrations bring to life the concepts to engage visual learning and processing. The author has also included STEM activities to help further solidify the concepts. Energy races through your feet and is fueled by food and rest. What happens when your energy runs out? Do you get cranky, tired, or thrash about? Have a snack! Take a snooze! Keep your energy up and you’ll never lose! Energy is everywhere, you just need to look. One thing for sure, you’ll find it in this book. (Ages 4-8) 

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Matter: Physical Science for Kids
by Andi Diehn, Hui Li (Nomad Press) Reviewer: Dr. Dawn Menge
Let’s begin to learn about matter in this science educational book. ”Birds in the sky and rocks on the ground. Things made of matter are all around! Solids and liquids and gasses, too. Make up the world including you. Matter is everything, everywhere you look. Does matter, matter? Learn how important matter is as you read through this book. The illustrations are vibrant and will keep your child’s attention as they take their first steps into science experiments. Be sure to try the STEM activities included to reinforce the learning of the science concepts. (Ages 4-8)

Ted the Friendly Frog and the Tale of the Diamond
by Scott Mcall (Brown Books Kids) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil
Learning can be tough, and some lessons can last a lifetime. We have much to learn growing up, and our parental guidance far outlasts that of the animal kingdom, but both share the wisdom of the aged and the benefit of a listening heart. Ted the frog learns the importance of obedience the hard way. And we the readers learn, the choice is always ours. (Ages 5-6)

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Bully
by Jennifer Sattler (Sleeping Bear Press) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil
Bully’s middle name might just be Greedy. He thinks the pond and its beautiful lilies are all for his own private enjoyment. Running off all those who pass by to share in the pond’s beauty, Bully finds himself quite content all alone. Can anyone stop Bully and his bullying ways? Using humor and whimsy, authorillustrator Jennifer Sattler masterfully shows young readers that standing up together can make all the difference in the world. (Ages 5-7)

Dino
by Diego Vaisberg (Templar) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil
This is a cute lighthearted story about a mysterious find. A large egg appears in the backyard. Is it a giant canary? A large lizard? A huge turtle? Life changes when the egg hatches. It’s sure to bring giggles to little readers and maybe even secret hopes that they, too, might find such wondrous things in their own backyard. (Ages 5-8)

Squiffy and the Vine Street Boys in Shiver Me Timbers
by Steve Stinson (Muddy Boots) Reviewer: Denise A. Bloomfield
This is a really fun story about Squiffy, who builds a pirate ship on a tree and invites the Vine Street boys to come aboard. The boys learn “Pirate talk” with a hilarious and predictable ending. I loved the characters, creativity, and imagination of this story. The illustrations bring the story to life. This is a fun and laugh-out-loud type of story. (Ages 5-8)

Howl Like a Wolf!
by Kathleen Yale, Kaley McKean (Storey Publishing) Reviewer: Denise A. Bloomfield
This book has so many educational and fun activities for young children! They can learn to howl like a wolf, see like a bat, and even dance like a honey bee! You didn’t know that a honey bee can dance? Well, you better get reading! This is a wonderful book for children and they will have lots of fun while learning. Also includes a link to download animal masks. A must-read! (Ages 6-9)

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Big Foot and Little Foot
by Ellen Potter, Felicita Sala (Harry N. Abrams) Reviewer: Olivia Amiri, age 11
Big Foot and Little Foot is a fun, adventurous book about seeing each other’s differences and overcoming fear to become friends. Hugo, the main character, is a young curious Sasquatch who wants to adventure in the Big Wide World, but that’s off limits. The most important Sasquatch rule is to never be seen by a human. But Hugo breaks that rule when he meets a human and they become pen pals. (Ages 6-9)

Love for Logan
by Lori DeMonia, Monique Turchan (Halo Publishing) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil
These two darling sisters return with another story of love and inspiration. Logan’s older sister has trouble processing sensory signals, and that can make life challenging. When one member of a family struggles, it affects them all. Leah’s family supports her with understanding and awareness and learning, but most of all with a love that can overcome those difficult obstacles most of us will never face. This story of love and compassion will inspire us all to become aware of the struggles of others, and be a positive influence with understanding. (Ages 6-12)

Dr. E’s Super Stellar Solar System
by Bethany Ehlmann, Jennifer Swanson (National Geographic Children’s Books) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil
This one is sure to thrill any kid with their head in the clouds, and beyond! Packed with amazing facts, awesome photographs and diagrams, famous scientists, and so much more, it is sure to please. Whether just-for-fun reading, information for reports or projects, it will fill many interests. Science is fun! (Ages 8+)

My First Book Of Quantum Physics
by Kaid-Sala Ferrón Sheddad, Eduard Altarriba (Button Books) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil
When I hear terms like elementary particles, my mind runs to the massive crumbs left in the middle school lunchroom. Or quantum entanglements fills my mind with visions of playground altercations needing attention. But, what if the concepts of quantum physics were introduced in an easier and more entertaining way? These authors have lifted the gray haze, and brought the quantum world to our fingertips. Children (and adults) will enjoy pushing the boundaries of what we call reality, and stepping into the quantum world! (Ages 8+)

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24 Hours in Nowhere
by Dusti Bowling (Sterling Children’s Books) Reviewer: Diana Perry
Welcome to Nowhere, Arizona, the least livable town in the United States. For Gus, a bright 13-year-old with dreams of getting out and going to college, life there is made even worse by Bo Taylor, Nowhere’s biggest, baddest bully. When Bo tries to force Gus to eat a dangerously spiny cactus, Rossi Scott comes to his rescue by giving Bo her prized dirt bike. Determined to buy it back, Gus and his friends decide to go searching for gold in Dead Frenchman Mine. As they hunt for treasure, narrowly surviving one disaster after another, they realize this adventure just might lead them somewhere. A great, actionpacked story. (Ages 8-12)

A Long Line of Cakes
by Deborah Wiles (Scholastic Press) Reviewer: Diana Perry
Emma Lane Cake has five brothers, four dogs, and a family that can’t stay put. The Cake family travels from place to place, setting up bakeries in communities that need them. Then, just when Emma feels settled in with new friends … they move again. Now the Cakes have come to Aurora County, and Emma has vowed that this time she is NOT going to get attached to anyone. Why bother, if her father’s only going to uproot her again? But fate has different plans. And so does Ruby Lavender, who is going to show Emma a thing or two about making friendships last. This is a perfect story for young readers with a very sweet ending. (Ages 8-12)

Daring Dreamers Club: Milla Takes Charge
by Erin Soderberg, Anoosha Syed (RH/Disney) Reviewer: Diana Perry
Milla loves nothing more than imagining grand adventures in the great wide somewhere, just like Belle. She dreams of traveling the world and writing about her incredible discoveries. Unfortunately, there is nothing pretend about the fifth-grade overnight and Milla’s fear that her moms won’t let her go. Enter Piper, Mariana, Zahra, and Ruby. Together with Milla, they form the Daring Dreamers Club and become best friends. But can they help Milla believe she’s ready for this real grand adventure? Kids will particularly love how the book ideally ends, then leads into a sample of the next book. I found this to be a perfect fifth grade story. (Ages 8-12)

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Kid Scientists: True Tales of Childhood from Science Superstars
by David Stabler, Anoosha Syed (Quirk Books) Reviewer: Diana Perry
What a delightful way for young readers to take more of an interest in science—by learning about our famous scientists’ childhoods. Did you know that there is one famous scientist who also invented the first pair of swim fins? Another scientist was also a genius mathematician whose calculations helped astronaut Neil Armstrong to be able to walk on the moon. Who are these people? You’ll have to read the book to find out. This is a brilliant book that will inspire and enlighten our budding future scientists. It proves to young readers that they, too, should dare to reach for the stars. (Ages 9-12)

Everything I Know About You
by Barbara Dee (Aladdin) Reviewer: Diana Perry
During a class trip to DC, 12-year-old Tally and her best friends, Sonnet and Caleb are less than thrilled when they are assigned roommates and are paired with kids who are essentially their sworn enemies. For Tally, rooming with “clonegirl” Ava Seely feels like punishment, rather than potential for fun, but Tally soon discovers several surprising things about her roommate—including the possibility of an eating disorder. This is a must-read for parents and teachers and a perfect lesson on bullying and another less-talked-about problem facing young girls today. (Ages 9-13)

The De La Cruz Diaries: Oops-A-Daisy
by Melody Delgado (Clean Reads) Reviewer: Olivia Amiri, age 11
The De La Cruz Diaries: Oops-A-Daisy is a fun and captivating book. Daisy De La Cruz is a 12-year-old girl with dreams of becoming a famous singer. I liked that the book dealt with real issues including family issues, bullies, and how hard you have to work to accomplish something. This is a good book for anyone facing these life challenges. (Ages 12+)

The Crow Child
by Sherrie Todd-Beshore (CreateSpace) Reviewer: Diana Perry
Twelve-year-old Elijah Day Clearwater is not your average child. Since the death of his parents when he was three years old, he has been living with his paternal grandfather. He struggles every day with Cystic Fibrosis. What sets Elijah apart from everyone else is something … magical. Thirteen days before his 13th birthday, Elijah begins to have vivid dreams. Perhaps the dreams are just an outlet from the stress of a bully at school, or maybe they hint at a destiny that was foretold prior to his birth under the firesign. This story teaches young readers how their very lives today were formed by others who came before them. It is easy to bond with the well-developed characters. A great read. (Ages 12+)
 

To submit your book for review, email cristy@storymonsters.com for submission guidelines.

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Closing the Gap: A Student Project

by Keith Brayman
AP Macroeconomics, River Bluff High School

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In March 2017, I sat down with my principal, Dr. Luke Clamp and said, “I want my kids to write a book and I want them to present their findings to the United Nations.” His reply is what all educators pray for. “Let’s make it happen. Let me know what I can do to help you get there.” That conversation was exactly what I needed and gave me the energy to embark on a journey with my students that would span a calendar year and include a nearly 400-page publication.

I assigned the first of many tasks to be completed over the summer break. I really wanted my students to select a country that they had personal ties to because that would give them ownership over their work, as this would be a long process. In fact, one piece of feedback that I got from a student was that they wished they had chosen a country more dear to them. Having that connection would also make this case study a labor of love and not merely labor. 

Once they had chosen their country of interest, they were to visit the United Nations site regarding developing nations and the Human Development Index. I chose this index as our starting place so that students would not only have a basis of comparison against other developing nations, but also to have sound data that they could refer back to over time. I had them compile their country’s data onto a spreadsheet, which we aggregated on the first day of school. It was very important to me that they realized the gap between industrialized nations and the developing world. Needless to say, it didn’t take long.

After that stage, it became a process of “we,” and not “I.” I thought that I had planned for every contingency possible, but I was wrong. Like, really, really wrong. The stage between compiling data and writing the first part of their research had some significant speed bumps. My students began to show that they had taken ownership of their research and were quickly becoming more knowledgeable about their specific countries than I was and I was constantly playing catch-up. Honestly, this was a great problem to have. 

Their first piece of writing was due just before the Christmas break—the history of the government and economic system for each country. I was blown away. The writing was fantastic. There was a definite realization from me that moving forward was going to be challenging. But, I feel the need to back up a bit. Closing in on the due date for their research, students began to come to me to express concerns about the clarity of what I wanted in their writing. I was taken aback. Hadn’t I explained it well? It was written clearly, or so I thought. 

What I had excluded from my planning was to ensure that there were enough checkpoints for my students to ask questions and gain the clarity that they needed. So we talked, a lot. Again, my students surprised me with their maturity and their ability to approach me with questions and concerns. There was even a point that I considered ending the case study with the research papers. Another testament to the level of students is that they shot that idea down nearly before I finished explaining my reasoning. They wanted to continue. I am so happy that they did. We worked together to ensure that they had all of the information that they needed to move forward and we were set for, in my opinion, one of the most meaningful semesters of their school careers.

Once back from the break, we shifted our focus to finding ways for our countries to move forward, to enhance the standard of living, and/or to generally make life more manageable for business to be successful. To be clear, my students were tasked with developing economic plans to move their countries further toward development. I had hoped that we would follow the rules and laws that are in my curriculum for our AP Macroeconomics class. We quickly outgrew them. The entry-level Economics formulas that we planned on using weren’t equipped to handle the data that my students wanted to adjust in their plans. This was the ninth or tenth time that I found myself on the struggle bus. Luckily, my students are brilliant and we were able to work together to ensure that we were using the correct formulas and that their calculations were correct. Difficulty came in situations where a country was in financial crisis and the news and data were changing by the minute. It truly was amazing to watch them work within very specific parameters while still thinking outside the box. 

Nearing the conclusion of the school term, it was a mad dash to finalize ideas and calculations. I became clear that the students weren’t procrastinating, but that they wanted their best work published. They owned their writing. They owned their work. They want you to read their best piece. Hopefully you will have the opportunity to read their findings and their plans for development. It is an amazing piece of student writing.

A message to any teachers who are contemplating publishing their students’ work: Do it! It will be one of the most meaningful pieces of work they will ever complete. 

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Author Spotlight: Sherry L. Hoffman

A teacher, reading specialist, book reviewer, and author whose educational and inspiring books have earned the Story Monsters Seal of Approval, Eric Hoffer Award, Mom’s Choice Award, Royal Dragonfly Book Award, Purple Dragonfly Book Award, and most recently, Book of the Year for Creative Child Magazine, today’s author spotlight is Sherry L. Hoffman.

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Where did you grow up? 
I grew up on Forest St. in Franklin Township, which is part of Carbon County in Northeast PA. My parents’ ranch home was located directly across from my grandparents’ campground, providing endless summer memories of swimming, volleyball, campfires, riding golf carts, and playing cards with friends and family. Being nestled in the foothills of the Poconos near the borough of Lehighton allowed me to witness all four seasons in beautiful landscapes of mountains, valleys, fields, and lakes. Changing of the seasons always seemed to elicit a feeling of peacefulness, yet excitement of what was to come. There is something about the beauty of nature that inspires me to reflect and want to capture it in pictures or in words.

I still remain in Franklin Township, a few miles from my childhood home. I love that my children could enjoy the area where I grew up and even attend the same elementary school as I did years ago.    

Did you read a lot as a child? 
Reading was and still remains a huge part of my world. My mom was one of my first teachers. She knew how to capture my attention and teach new words by doing crafts like creating a picture book about my family. As a child I enjoyed pop-up books and books like Hop on Pop, Ten Apples Up on Top, Are You My Mother?, There is a Monster at the End of this Book, and Amelia Bedelia. Later on, trips to the grocery store typically yielded new additions to our library with Sweet Valley Twins and Sweet Valley High books, as well as Bop! and Teen Beat! magazines. 

What are some of your favorite literary memories? 
Some of my favorite literary memories were snuggling next to my mom as she read picture books. She always showed an interest in my reading and learning. I loved when we would set up the Fisher Price record player to listen to books on records while reading along to the stories. The narrators and characters speaking in the stories grabbed my attention and made me want to continue reading more and more. 

What did you want to be when you grew up? 
Around the time I was 10 years old, my friends Dorinda, Alicia, and I formed the Gals’ Club, in which we were the sole creators, writers, and editors of our own neighborhood newspaper entitled Whippoorwill Lake Newspaper; the newspaper was named after my grandparents’ campground located directly across the street from my house. We used a typewriter and set up our shop in our clubhouse, the tent camper in my family’s backyard. We sold our newspapers for 10 cents each and delivered the papers via our bikes and sometimes by my friends’ little red Radio Flyer wagon. Our newspaper captured the attention of a reporter from the local newspaper. Our story was featured in the Times News, and we were invited to visit and tour the Times News building. Seeing the whole process of creating the local newspaper was fascinating. I began to think that one day I would love to be a writer or reporter, as well as being a teacher. 

Tell us about some of the jobs you’ve had before you became a writer. 
I grew up helping with office work in my family’s fuel oil delivery business R.F. Ohl Fuel Oil located in Lehighton, PA. My older brother Brad delivered fuel oil with my dad, while my mom, big brother Steve, and I worked in the office. Seeing the business grow through the family’s hard work and perseverance was inspiring to me. I knew I would have to do the same to reach my life goals. 

I went on to earn a bachelor of science degree in elementary education from Kutztown University and a master of education degree from East Stroudsburg University. I worked in my hometown school district for 17 years. I substituted grades K – 12 for two years until I was hired as a full-time classroom teacher at Lehighton Area Middle School in 2002. While a middle school teacher, I taught science and reading to 6th graders for 10 years, and I was a grade 5 to 8 reading specialist for three years. Later, I transferred within the district to Mahoning Elementary and Shull-David Elementary schools as a Title 1 reading specialist for grades 1 to 4. 

Recently, I joined my husband at our towing and repair business All-Points Towing, Recovery, and Service Center to work as the office manager, concentrate on my writing, and having a flexible schedule to raise our three children Megan, age 13, Jocelyn, age 10, and Sawyer, age 9. 
  
How did you get started writing? 
As soon as I could hold a crayon, I grew an interest in writing. I recall watching my parents write at the kitchen table as I tried to copy what they wrote in my best handwriting. Although others may have seen scribbles and swirls on my paper, I saw letters and words making up my name and stories. My parents entertained my ideas by listening and encouraging. 

As previously mentioned, my best friends and I had our own newspaper. Their parents and mine supported our endeavors, as well as our neighbors. One next-door neighbor in particular, Mary Miller, enjoyed writing letters to our column “Dear Gals.” She asked us questions about the baby deer that were spotted in the neighborhood, sent us recipes for our newspaper, and even requested answers for our crossword puzzles to be printed in our following newspaper. If we sold lemonade to raise funds for our paper or other endeavors, she was there as a solid customer and supporter. 

As I continued school, my teachers were influential in my writing. From Mrs. Snowberger and Miss Cox teaching how to write the ABCs, form my first words, and rhyme to Mrs. Sowden and Miss Mulligan teaching me how to write in my neatest cursive writing, teachers were some of my biggest supporters and influences along my literary journey. I can recall Mr. Gimble and Mr. Eisenhower teaching me about the classics and introducing me to literary greats in stories as well as building upon the fundamentals of writing, enabling an expansion of vocabulary and stretching my mind to new levels. 

Mr. Novey in high school provided opportunities for projects and life lessons as my friends Misty, Mike, Brett, and I learned the value of researching, preparing, creating, and presenting a project about the decade of the 1940s. Through this, we collectively learned that sometimes we can have the best laid plans fall through, and at times we just need to use our research and knowledge to “wing it” to get the desired results. That concept has been applied to my writing and in life on many occasions; sometimes the best pieces of writing happen when you take a different direction and let go of anything holding you back.

College professors like Professor Harkins at Lehigh Carbon Community College expressed with animated gestures that “Variety is the spice of life.” Dr. Chambers at Kutztown University opened my eyes to new literature by Patricia Polacco and her love of Harry Potter was contagious. I found myself immersed in children’s books during the summer of 2000 while studying to become an elementary school teacher. I wrote reviews to create a book log of 40 books as assigned, and she encouraged me to one day write children’s book reviews. Though I did not pursue that at the time due to a busy school schedule, I kept that positive remark in the back of my mind. Years later, I joined with Story Monsters Ink to do just that. Dr. McLaughlin, Dr. Ramano, and Dr. Moore from East Stroudsburg University challenged me to research, read, and reflect, all while finding creative ways to reach the different learning styles of my students. 

Dr. R and the Colonial Association of Reading Educators (CARE) championed my writing efforts by connecting opportunities to present at the Keystone State Reading Conference in State College, PA and educator receptions and book signings at Barnes and Noble stores. 

Together the teachers in my life taught me that writing can be fun, entertaining, and a learning tool. Because of that, I used my love of poetry and songwriting to create songs about character, science, and reading for my middle school students and later turned them into books for others to enjoy.

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Why do you write books? 
One of the most pivotal moments of my writing career happened in 2011 as my daughter Megan stepped off of the bus as a kindergartner. We chatted as we walked down the driveway to our house. I asked her about her day and she told me it was “Good.” I said, “What did you learn about?” and she said, “Buckets.” Intrigued by this comment, I had to learn more. It turned out that her principal at the time Gretchen Laviolette had just read Have You Filled a Bucket Today? to her class. My daughter continued to tell me all about how everyone has a bucket and if we do something nice we fill that person’s bucket and our own. If we don’t do something nice we dip into that person’s bucket. 

I thought it was such a great concept and couldn’t wait to find the book. I searched online and found the bucket books. I wrote many poems to teach this concept to my students and own kids, eventually sending the poems to the author, Carol McCloud. She encouraged me to write my own book of bucket filling poems. It took me a year to write my book, and then she said I could send it to her publisher. I did just that. Nine months later, I was holding my book with a new title from the publisher: A to Z Character Education for the Classroom

The publishing process was a learning experience and so much fun. It made me want to continue writing for my students and kids. I went on to write Be the Best Version of You: A Teacher’s Poem for Her Students, which was a letter I wrote to my middle school students for their last day of classes. Because two students excitedly asked me for a copy of the poem, I decided to turn it into a book for them. Later, I penned Can You Dig It? All About the Temperate Soil Profile because former students every year would come back and visit me in my classroom, asking for a copy of the “Soil Song.”  

Every book had a purpose, and Driver Dad: Towman to the Rescue came to be because my tow truck driver husband had a close call one night while towing a car alongside the highway. I wanted to spread the message about the “Slow Down, Move Over” law, hoping to make drivers aware of the need to slow down and move over when emergency vehicles are alongside the road. 

Elf Olaf, Santa’s Magical Gift was a promise that my longtime friend and pet photographer Dietra DeRose decided to create when we were in Mr. Miller’s Art class in seventh grade in 1990. We always talked about how one day we were going to create a book together. Our book showcases her love of pet photography and includes adorable ferrets and cocker spaniels in Christmas settings. Through her pictures, I pieced together a story about a magical ferret elf named Olaf who learns about the importance of giving and bringing smiles to others.

Forever Thankful, Good Night was the result of a long winter snowstorm and snow day vacations from school. It is a story about being thankful for the many reasons in our life. It led me to write my latest book Grateful for You, Good Night!

What do you like best about writing? 
Writing is therapeutic and helps me to relax, create, and reach goals. However, my favorite part is weaving words together that hopefully will help to put positive vibes into the world. I hope to make a difference and help others find their gifts through writing and inspiring. 

What do you find the most challenging about writing?
The most challenging part of writing is concentrating on one project at a time. I usually have many stories going at once. I pick the story I want to work on, depending on my mood. 

What makes a good story? 
A good story is like meeting a new friend. It has character, captivates, and inspires.

Tell us about your latest book. 
Grateful for You, Good Night! is a sweet, relaxing bedtime story, which develops a routine of responsibility, prayers, and gratefulness. This story has a poetic quality with soothing illustrations and design by Jacqueline Challiss Hill. It allows readers to take their own special journey of making memories with their families. Together, the poetic nature of the story and the illustrations reflect how saying good night and being thankful are two important parts of a loving bedtime routine.

Families play a vital role in building and supporting children’s sense of security and comfort. Through the sequencing of events, of which children can expect to follow every night, parents help to develop a feeling of relaxation, transitioning their children to a night of restful sleep. 

This is the second book Jacqueline has illustrated and designed for me; the first book was a character curriculum book as previously mentioned A to Z Character Education for the Classroom

What’s next for you? 
I am super excited for my next book, which has a working title of How the Farm Wakes Up. This children’s story will feature illustrations and design by my dear illustrator friend Jacqueline Challiss Hill. Young readers will enjoy reading a rhyming story about animals waking up in the morning on a farm.

Where do you get your inspiration? 
Inspiration for my stories comes from my children, teaching, and life experiences. I feel that words of encouragement can go a long way. From a principal reading a story, to my oldest daughter retelling the story, to a children’s author responding to my enthusiastic email, to students expressing interest in my songs and poems, to the support of my teachers, family, and friends, words matter. I am thankful for the people in my life and the words of encouragement offered along my literary journey. They made me feel empowered to continue to write and reach my dreams. 


For more information about Sherry L. Hoffman and her books, visit SherryLHoffman.com.
 

Author Spotlight: Alva Sachs


Alva Sachs says her days in the classroom were the real beginnings for becoming the children’s author she is today. She uses her teaching experience of 16 years and her love of writing for kids to create stories that engage, empower, and excite young readers.
 

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Where did you grow up? 
I hail from the windy city of Chicago, Illinois, but moved around a few times to various parts of the city. I miss my favorite Chicago food that I get as soon as I visit.

Did you read a lot as a child? 
Well, at that time I was really into Archie Comics. I couldn’t decide whom I liked better, so I chose Veronica. 

What were some of your favorite authors and books?  
John Grisham, Nora Ephron, Sophie Kinsella, Mitch Albom, Roald Dahl, Shel Silverstein, Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
Lawyer comes to mind. I had to write a couplet for eighth-grade graduation, and I remember to this day: “A Perry Mason, I would like to be, to defend my client’s liberty!” Pretty classy … don’t you think?

Tell us about some of the jobs you’ve had before you became a writer. 
Golly gee, how much room do I have? Of course, almost all girls my age babysat for sure. For the price of .50 an hour, (actually started a manuscript about this) the going rate, and then I graduated to a mother’s helper of twins, which I loved and made $12 for the week and gave the money to my mom for groceries. In high school, at 15 I got a great job working for a small department store in the credit department. This was way before computers, and everything was done by hand or phone. After a short time, I was promoted to assistant to the women’s buyer and also got jobs for my girlfriends in high school, and we had so much fun being together. In college, at the University of Illinois in Champaign/Urbana Illinois, I worked at Carson Pirie Scott and Company department store, then over the summers back in Chicago I was sent on location for temporary placements. Had to work for the summers, as my parents were divorced. My best job ever was working at a music/bar/restaurant with live bands in my junior and senior years of college. It was fun to serve the students, dance, and yes, clean the place up at 1 a.m.! Needless to say, all of these experiences were an amazing benefit to me as I grew into who I was. Too long, right? Well, I am a writer!

How did you get started writing?  
My school district where I taught was instituting a writing seminar for any teachers interested from K-12. I jumped at the chance! It sounded so wonderful and I hoped it would help me with my students. Well, it was AMAZING! I also mentored staff in my school, incorporated it into our school day with my kids, and we all had to write in the seminar as well. Like my students, initially I stared at the blank page. Somehow out of that came Circus Fever. My first story was written and sat in a folder until 10 years ago. 

Why do you write books? 
Good question. It is certainly not for the money. Reading to my 4th and 5th graders every day. It was a very special part of our day together. Teaching and the wonderful experiences I had with my kids, I guess from being in the classroom, and how they would inspire me with their writing left an imprint on my heart. It was incredible to see their growth in writing once we began our writing process in the classroom. Their excitement turned into their own “published” books with book covers, illustrations, and the whole enchilada. What an inspiration. But I didn’t start writing again until my own children were in college.

What do you like best about writing? 
Writing takes me to a place in time where I feel like a kid again. Thinking, experiencing, and seeing the world through those eyes. It connects me to moments I had with my own children and their friends that were so special, you didn’t want them to end. 

What do you find the most challenging about writing? 
Once I start the story, I am pretty good to go, but then I want to be sure to develop it in a way where the content, characters, and storyline does arc while maintaining the integrity of where I want the reader to go and experience. Keeping in mind, these readers are various ages. They get bored easily and they come with a wealth of experience these days. You want it to be a page-turner, a story they can connect to, and feel part of it all by the end. Pretty challenging, huh?

What makes a good story? 
That is hard to define. So many ways to do a good story, and of course, I feel all my stories are good, but it is good in my humble opinion. Let’s say if a child reads the story at 5, revisits it at 7 or 10 and still feels connected, relates to it on a new level, and can relate to it again and again. I think that is what keeps those incredible classics around by those authors who had that recipe back in the day.

Where do you get your inspiration? 
Life all around me. My children, who are very close in age and how they played with each other, their interaction, their pure sense of imagination, their friends, their honesty, their sensitivity and love. My family inspires me every day. 

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Tell us about your latest book. 
Dancing Dreidels. My desire to write a Judaic book from growing up Jewish. My illustrator, Patricia Krebs is Jewish as well and from Argentina. It was special for both of us, but I wanted to write a fun story that all children could relate to. It’s about four dreidels who are best friends, and they all spin or dance better than all of the other dreidels in the house. That is, except for Sheila. The story goes on in a very subtle way to illustrate for children that there are times in our lives when we are growing up and we may face difficult situations. We have to look inside ourselves and sometimes with the help of our family and friends, we can succeed. 

What’s next for you?
Aye, matey, don’t ya think it’s time for the best pirate story, ever? Been writing this one for several years, as I usually dream my stories before I write them down. So, this adventure has been literally driving me crazy. I see it so vividly in my mind with the illustrations because Patricia and I have worked so long together. This story also lives in my memory from a time when my three children were young. 

Is there anything we didn’t ask that you’d like people to know about you and/or your books? 
The one thing my illustrator and I really work on together is creating movement, rhythm, and connection to each page in the story. Keeping the reader actively engaged as well as the person reading to them. It’s like a symphony that cannot be separated; every part is integral to the entire story. It makes a whole child experience, and increases their love to read, to be read to, and understand that reading is key to succeeding in life, regardless of the path you choose. 

For more information about Alva Sachs and her books, visit www.alvasachs.com.