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

Author Spotlight: Erin Entrada Kelly


Newbery Medalist Erin Entrada Kelly’s You Go First is an engaging exploration of family, bullying, spelling, art, and the ever-complicated world of middle school friendships…

photo by Laurence Kesterson

photo by Laurence Kesterson

Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Lake Charles, an industrial town in southwest Louisiana, near the Texas border.

Did you read a lot as a child?
Yes! I was (and am) a huge bookworm.

What were some of your favorite authors and books?
I loved Judy Blume, especially Blubber and Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret. I also loved Sideways Stories from Wayside School, Halfway Down Paddy Lane, the Sweet Valley High series, and Choose Your Own Adventure. I also enjoyed Christopher Pike thrillers.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
I've always wanted to be an author.

Tell us about some of the jobs you’ve had before you became a writer.
In high school, I worked at a seafood restaurant and at JCPenney. After high school, I was fortunate enough to get an entry-level job at my local paper. I worked my way up to feature writer. After that, I worked as an editor for a lifestyle magazine and as a corporate copy editor. My professional career has always revolved around words.

How did you get started writing?
I've been writing for as long as I can remember. I wrote my first book when I was eight years old.

Why do you write books?
Books were an escape for me when I was a kid. I want to give that back to today's young readers.

What do you like best about writing?
Honestly, I enjoy the entire process, from the initial idea to the finished product. And I enjoy everything that comes along with publishing—school visits, festival appearances, book signings, talking to fans, book tours. There's nothing about it that makes me grumble.

What do you find the most challenging about writing?
I struggle with first drafts. I'm much better at revision.

What do you think makes a good story?
Good characters.

Where do you get your inspiration?
Everywhere! Inspiration surrounds us all the time. You just have to pay attention.

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Tell us about your latest book.
My latest book, You Go First, is about the friendship between two gifted students—Charlotte, who lives in Philadelphia; and Ben, who lives in Louisiana—who meet each other through online Scrabble.

What’s next for you?
My first middle-grade fantasy will be released in May. It's called Lalani of the Distant Sea, and it's inspired by Filipino folklore. I'm really excited about it.

For more information about Erin Entrada Kelly and her books, visit erinentradakelly.com.

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

Erin is presenting on the YOU'VE GOT A FRIEND IN ME: HEARTWARMING STORIES OF IDENTITY & BELONGING panel on Sunday., Nov. 18, noon w/Pablo Cartaya (Marcus Vega Doesn't Speak Spanish), and  Alex Gino (You Don't Know Everything, Jilly P!) 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: Zack Bush


From a child’s first uttered “Dada” to his or her first unsteady steps, nothing can adequately convey the joy and awe of watching the birth and growth of a new child. Filled with adorable illustrations and the refrain, “You are the one made just for me,” Made for Me is a winning presentation of tender moments that tie a father and his new child together … forever.

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Where did you grow up?
Miami, Florida

Did you read a lot as a child?
Yes—always loved reading.

What were some of your favorite authors and books?
Growing up I loved Judy Blume (who doesn’t?) and Roald Dahl, but my absolute favorite was Shel Silverstein.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
I always knew I wanted to surround myself with live music. The traditional path never interested me too much. As a bar owner and a writer, I can say my career dreams have really come true!

Tell us about some of the jobs you’ve had before you became a writer.
I spent many years working with my family in the waste/recycling business. I also spent a great deal of time promoting/marketing events as well. And of course, as co-owner of Ball & Chain (located in Miami)—I spend a great many days and nights listening to jazz, salsa, and Afro-Cuban funk.

How did you get started writing?
I always enjoyed writing. However, life kind of “takes off” and often times we, myself included, lose site of hobbies. In my case, my passion and zest for writing came back when my first child was born. I was overcome by emotion and KNEW I had to find the words that matched the feelings in my heart.

Why do you write books?
Besides being overcome with emotion and wanting to give words to the feelings in my heart, I really wanted to show that it is ok—and should be encouraged—for a dad to coo over his baby (just as we often see moms doing). My wife and I began reading to our children and I found no books that truly captured what I was trying to capture.

What do you like best about writing?
The challenge. When writing a children’s picture book (especially one that rhymes)—every word has to be perfect. As long as I can remember I always wanted to be published—it just took my kids being born to remind me of this lifetime goal.

What do you find the most challenging about writing?
For me, I have to be inspired and this inspiration comes at any and all times—and sometimes not at all. I find I do my best work when I am focused on finding words to match my very own feelings.

What do you think makes a good story?
For me there is something very powerful when a story evokes emotion. This is what I tried to do with Made For Me.

Where do you get your inspiration?
My incredible children and my superhero wife. The best inspiration comes from real-life experiences. Each day is an adventure and I find myself constantly jotting things down on paper or in my phone. With infants and now toddlers —I am inspired each and every day.

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Tell us about your latest book.
Made For Me is a story about a father’s love for his little one. It captures the everyday moments that I experienced (and believe most dads do as well). These moments are beyond precious and I found myself both excited and emotional on a daily basis.

What’s next for you?
I am continuing to write (many new projects in the works)—and of course I am continuing with my passion for the hospitality industry. Besides Ball & Chain (www.BallAndChainMiami.com), I have a Mexican restaurant and bar opening within the next two months and a hotel food and beverage program that will roll out before the end of 2018.

Is there anything we didn’t ask that you’d like people to know about you and/or your books?
I have been overwhelmed by the support and feedback from Made For Me. I never in my wildest dreams imagined becoming a Publishers Weekly bestseller. More than that, I am blown away by the comments on the Made For Me Facebook page and Amazon review page. I read and reply to each and every one of the comments and they keep me smiling from the inside out.


For more information about Zack Bush and his books, visit facebook.com/MadeForMeBook

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

Zack is presenting Made for Me at 12:30 pm 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


In the Garden: Scarecrows

by Rita Campbell

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I could while away the hours
Conferring with the flowers
Consulting with the rain
And my head I'll be scratching
While my thoughts were busy hatching
If I only had a brain...

- Ray Bolger, The Wizard of Oz

Scarecrows throughout time have taught us lessons on thinking before you speak, generosity, loneliness, and feelings. They have been written about in songs, plays, and children’s books. Throughout history, scarecrows have been used to help farmers save their crops. The Egyptians used the first scarecrows along the Nile River to protect wheat crops from flocks of quail. Wooden scarecrows were used by Greek farmers in 2,500 B.C. These wooden scarecrows were painted purple and had a club in one hand to scare the birds from the vineyards and a sickle in the other to ensure a good harvest. Romans copied the Greek and Japanese farmers created scarecrows to protect their rice fields. In Germany, scarecrows were wooden-shaped witches while in Britain, young boys and girls were used as live scarecrows.

In the United States, immigrant German farmers created “bogeymen” or human-looking scarecrows dressed in old clothes with large, red handkerchiefs around their necks. From these, the straw-filled, human-like men with gourd faces developed. Many other types were used by Native American Indians and Pilgrims to protect their crops. Today, technological scarecrows have reflective film ribbons tied on plants to glimmer in the sunlight. We actually have some motion-powered recorded devices set in our garden to steer away deer.

Scarecrows have evolved over the years and many gardens have scarecrow festivals with competitions for creating the most original scarecrows. These scarecrows can be very creative from childlike scarecrows to adults ones. In the fall, scarecrows can also make fun decorations for your porch or Halloween.

Making a scarecrow to me is akin to creating a snowman and there are so many ways you can attempt this. At the end of the summer, you can decorate your sunflowers with hats, sunglasses, scarves, and old eye-glasses. Paper plate scarecrows are fun to make too. Using buttons for eyes, felt or construction paper for hats, yarn for hair, old shirts and pants stuffed with straw and old boots can be a fun activity to introduce a preschooler or elementary student to scarecrows.

For a garden scarecrow, you will need to create a T-shaped frame for his body and arms. You can drive a fencepost into the ground in the garden where you want to position your scarecrow. Fasten the frame to this post with wire or plastic fasteners. His/her head will need to sit on the top of this frame. An old pillow case stuffed or an old flower pot or lampshade will make a cute head.

Now you need to dress your scarecrow. Use an old shirt and pants or dress. The clothing will need to be stuffed with straw, old rags, leaves or newspaper and tied off with string. Using garbage bags to hold and shape your stuffing material is helpful and the plastic will keep it dry and from falling apart. Use safety pins, hot glue or yarn stitches to hold everything together. Adding gloves, shoes, hats, and scarves just add to the human qualities. Make your scarecrow part of the family.

Birds, rabbits and deer are adaptable. They will stay away from anything that looks suspicious. However, if it stays put for a while, they will get use to it and eventually will think it is there for them as a perch. A scarecrow that stays still in a garden will only be effective for a few days. It is important to make it as life like as you can and moving it around will help to fool the animals. He should be positioned everywhere in the garden meaning that you move him often. Make him lifelike by giving him a job with some tools or sitting on a fence. Simply changing his hat might be a way to fool the birds into thinking he is real.

While scarecrows are helpful in the garden to scare animals and birds away, there have been many stories written about them that can also teach your children about feelings. There is a beautiful story about a scarecrow who longs for the company of the creatures he scares away and in the winter he becomes a snowman that the animals play with. Once again working in the garden can also present many beautiful learning opportunities.

 Bloom Sunflower Flower Yellow Flower Yellow Nature

Plant of the Month: Sunflowers

Sunflowers come in a wide assortment of sizes. Some cultivars grow as tall as 15 feet with flower heads as wide as 1 foot across; dwarf types, however, measure only a foot or two tall. There are also early, medium-height sunflowers that stand 5 to 8 feet tall with heads 8 to 10 inches across. Some cultivars produce a single large flower; others form several heads. Choose a site in full sun on the north side of the garden so the tall plants won't shade your other vegetables once they're grown. The seeds feed countless people, animals, and birds. Sunflower oil is used in cooking, soaps, and cosmetics. In the garden, you can grow sunflowers not only as beautiful aesthetic additions, but as windbreaks, privacy screens, or living supports for pole beans.

Rita Campbell is a master gardener. The Moonbeam-Award winning author has combined her love of gardening and teaching to create an educational series of books for children ... with a touch of magic. For more information, visit spritealights.com.

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: Brian Wray


Brian Wray has been writing professionally since 2003, when he was awarded the Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. Since then, he has written for Walt Disney Studios and has earned a variety of television producing and writing credits. Inspired by his work at Disney and the bottomless imagination of his daughters, Brian focuses on storytelling for children, including a heartwarming story about an adorable little stuffed bunny with a very relatable problem.

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Where did you grow up? 
I grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio. I moved away in in 1990, but still go back as often as I can to see family, and enjoy my favorite local food spots. 

Did you read a lot as a child? 
I was read to a lot when I was younger, and that definitely encouraged me to read as I got older. It also inspired me to tell stories at an early age.

What were some of your favorite authors and books? 
I was a big Shel Silverstein fan. There was a copy of The Giving Tree in my 3rd grade classroom, and I was totally intrigued. I also loved Maurice Sendak’s books, and Judy Blume’s as I got older. I thoroughly wore out my copy of Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing

What did you want to be when you grew up? 
I definitely wanted to be a storyteller, but I wasn’t always sure what kind. I started writing little stories in elementary school, then making short films as a young teenager. My first professional writing experience was writing screenplays. The goal was always telling stories. 

Tell us about some of the jobs you’ve had before you became a writer. 
Oh, my. Let’s see… I worked in a movie theater while I was in high school. Did some telemarketing work, too. My apologies if I called you during dinner. I was the person who made donuts at a donut shop, which was a constant temptation for someone who enjoys donuts as much as I do. I’ve done everything from working as a short order cook while I was in college to working on film sets, once I graduated. There’s been a lot of variety.

How did you get started writing? 
The real start was in the fourth grade. My teacher took notice of a story that I wrote for an assignment, and didn’t just praise the work (which would have been fantastic enough), she took the time to encourage me to do more. Not only did she speak to me about my stories one-on-one, but praised the work in front of the entire class, citing things that stood out to her. That might not sound like such a big deal, but for a young boy who may have been feeling just a bit self-conscious, it meant the world. I’ve never forgotten what an impact that had on me, and it makes me so happy to know that there are teachers like that in the world. 

Why do you write books? 
For multiple reasons. I can’t seem to stop, for one. There is something very fulfilling about having an idea fall into your head, sometimes from nowhere, then taking the time to develop it, and craft it on paper. I really do enjoy the process. The greater joy then comes when you’re sharing that story with a child and you can see that they’re engaged in what’s happening. 

What do you like best about writing? 
I like the connections that form when you write. I had the opportunity to write a screenplay for Disney early in my career. It was the first time since writing stories as a child, that I was writing stories intended for children. And I loved it. It reminded me of a story’s possibility to inspire wonder, to transport, and also to discover in it a little bit of ourselves. Those are some of the most wonderful moments of childhood; imagination, exploration, and discovery. When I write, I get to connect back to those moments. Who wouldn’t enjoy that?!

What do you find the most challenging about writing? 
The biggest challenge for me when I write is not overthinking it; to just relax and let my natural voice come through. I have to remind myself that I can always go back and tune up what’s there.

What do you think makes a good story? 
That’s a tough question. Different stories speak to people for different reasons. I know that when I was a child, I was most drawn to stories that seemed to be working on two levels; the story that was happening on the surface, but also had a sense that there was a deeper meaning to what was going on. I might not have always known what that deeper meaning was, but it intrigued me, and made me want to find out. So, for me, a good story is a catalyst for a larger thought or discussion, that allows a child’s imagination to wander a bit.

Where do you get your inspiration? 
There is constant inspiration from my family, friends, and now children I meet from readings. I have two amazing, creative, vibrant daughters who provide a steady stream of fun and ideas. I’m very fortunate.

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Tell us about your latest book. 
My latest book is called Unraveling Rose. Rose is a stuffed bunny who loves having fun with the little boy she lives with, until she discovers a loose thread dangling from her arm, and it’s all she can think about. In the end, she learns that things don’t always have to be perfect. I hoped that the story would have a broad appeal, but could also be used by parents to talk to children about obsessive thoughts, which is an issue that impacts an estimated 3 percent of children in the United States alone. Unraveling Rose allows children having those feelings to know they’re not alone.

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What’s next for you? 
My illustrator, Shiloh Penfield, and I are very excited about our next book! It’s scheduled for a 2019 release, and focuses on how to cope with feelings in a healthy way, and what can happen when you try to stuff them down. It’s a story that we hope many children will be able to identify with, and maybe parents, too. 

Is there anything we didn’t ask that you’d like people to know about you and/or your books? 
On top of the effort needed to a write a story, having a book published requires a lot of support, and much faith. I’ve had the good luck to be surrounded by both. I am very grateful to work with an amazing artist like Shiloh Penfield. I am also fortunate to work with a publisher (Schiffer Publishing/Pixel Mouse House) that believes in the work, and does a great job getting it out into the world. Books don’t just provide education, but transportation, and opportunity for reflection. I am so happy to be a small part of that. 

Unraveling Rose is available at Amazon.com.

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.
 

America’s Treasures: State and National Parks

by Diana Perry

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America is home to over 10,234 state parks and 59 national parks. While there are many to visit, I recommend starting with the parks in your home state, then try to visit as many others as you can, including our national parks. While every park has an abundance of wildlife to see as well as hiking trails, boating, camping, and other outdoor activities, each also has specific things to do or see that makes them special. Here are some to consider:

The Grand Canyon National Park, AZ – Made of red rock, it certainly is a most photographic park at more than 277 river miles long, 18 miles wide and 1 mile deep. It is one of the seven wonders of the world and is the second highest national park. Most of the Grand Canyon is found here. Bison herds can be seen as you hike on the trails or ride a raft down the Colorado river.

Yosemite National Park, CA – Famous for its breathtaking waterfalls, Yosemite takes up 1,189 square miles and has one of the three largest exposed granite monoliths in the world; one is El Capitan, which rises 3,600 feet high from the valley floor. There is a train that you can ride throughout the park that exposes you to all the wonders of the nature, including the vast variety of wildlife. Stand next to the ancient giant sequoia trees or visit the Upper Yosemite Falls. At 1,430 feet, it is one of the five highest waterfalls in the world.  

Yellowstone National Park, WY – While you may not see Yogi Bear or his pal, Boo-Boo, you certainly won’t be disappointed when you visit this national treasure. You can see “Old Faithful,” the most famous geyser in America. It erupts on a regular schedule, which can range from 60 to 110 minutes between eruptions. Geyer spouts can vary from 106 to 184 feet high and normally last between 1½ to 5 minutes and can contain 3,700 to 8,400 gallons of water. Another great site to see is Mammoth Hot Springs, made of a form of colored limestone.

Niagara State Park, NY – It shares its border with Canada and is America’s oldest state park with over 400 acres. The Niagara Falls are what tourists come to see, but don’t stop there. Ride the Maid of the Mist, a boat tour that starts and ends on the American side but briefly crosses into Ontario. This ride takes you right under the falls and near the Rainbow Bridge, which is 1,450 feet long and 202 feet high.  Don’t forget to visit The Cave of the Winds, a natural cave behind Bridal Veil Falls. It is 130 feet high, 100 feet wide and 30 feet deep!

Moore State Park, MA – With 737 acres, there is much to do, such as canoeing, biking, hiking, motorized boating, cross-country skiing, fishing, hunting, and all sorts of fun activities and educational programs.  This state park is very historical and is home to some of the nation’s first stone mill foundations and a restored sawmill. There is a labyrinth of wooded paths that prove great fun to explore. 

Mammoth Cave National Park, KY – This park boasts of the longest cave system in the entire world with huge caverns and brightly colored stalactites and stalagmites. Make sure to take the Violet City Lantern Tour, where you walk through the cave with lanterns to light your way; it is three miles long and takes three hours to complete. You will also see the Star Chamber cavern, called that because there are formations in the dark ceiling that light up from the lanterns of visitors –they appear as if they’re starlights.

Everglades National Park, FL – This is one of the most primitive of the national parks and is the third-largest in the continental 48 states. The park is 2,400 square miles and offers some of the best birding experiences. Today’s high-tech population of young and old will enjoy geocaching. Geocaches are containers trackable by a GPS device and are hidden throughout the park. Families go on treasure hunts to find them. Make sure to visit Gator Park; not only can you see alligators in their natural habitat, but trainers put on gator shows!

Big Bend Ranch State Park, TX – This is as Wild West as it gets from the towering Chisos Mountain Range and much of the Chihuahuan Dessert. Take a rafting trip down the Rio Grande river through the beautiful Santa Elena Canyon with photographic limestone cliffs. You can also relax in one of the hot springs at Langford.

Custer State Park, SD – With 71,000 acres to explore, it won’t take long to spot one of their many buffalo herds. You can venture the territory on a trail ride or sit in a Safari Jeep. Try to make it up to Black Elk Peak. At 7,242 feet tall, it is the highest point east of the Rockies.

Sequoia National Park, CA – This is home to the world’s largest trees, one in particular is the General Sherman Tree at 275 feet tall and weighs over million pounds!

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There are so many reasons to visit your local state and national parks. While they all offer the chance to commune with nature, each park is unique. Unlike many vacations, visiting our parks is most affordable. You can even camp out in a tent or rent a cabin for very little money. With our lives so hectic, it is healthy for us both mentally and physically. There are not too many things more relaxing than being out in nature.

Kids and adults alike will get an education first-hand when exploring one of our parks. Rather than just reading about them, experience them for yourself, especially when you get to see some of the wonders of the world up close. It’s the perfect way for anyone to learn about America and its history. Fresh air and exercise are so healthy. Just take a hike to see the sights—you’ll feel better and you’ll certainly sleep well, too. Not only can you bond with family members and friends, but you get the rare chance to bond with nature itself. What are you waiting for? Go have an adventure at one our America’s great parks!

Author Spotlight: Lea Herrick

Lea Herrick is the award-winning author of The Courageous Corgi and Ace, King of My Heart, and was inspired to write the books as tributes to her love for animals and the environment, with the hope that all living things will be cherished and protected.

Where did you grow up?    
I grew up in the Baltimore/Washington area but lived in Europe during part of my grade school years where my father was stationed abroad. I was given a wonderful opportunity to see other countries and cultures as a child at a time when most people were not traveling yet.

Did you read a lot as a child?  
Some of my first memories were of going to the Woolworth or Kresge dime stores with my mother and if I behaved, right before leaving the store, I would be allowed to select a Golden Book. Also, in elementary school, every child was given a Scholastic Books flyer to order books to purchase for reading at home. It was so exciting when the books arrived! I loved Margaret Rey’s Curious George series, the Homer Price books by Robert McCluskey, and Henry Huggins books by Beverly Cleary. I think there was a theme of curiosity and mischievousness that intrigued me. I also loved the Nancy Drew mysteries by Carolyn Keene.

What were some of your favorite authors and books?   
I still love to read books for young readers, such as Marguerite Henry’s Misty of Chincoteague series. I also have enjoyed Kate DiCamillo’s Because of Winn-Dixie, Lisa Greenwald’s Dog Beach Unleashed and Gilbert Byron’s Mission Boy, which is a novel about Spanish Jesuits in the Chesapeake Bay area. My all-time favorite book is Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, and I spent one entire summer reading that as a teenager.

What did you want to be when you grew up?   
Believe it or not, I wanted to be a geologist. At some point, I decided that maybe rocks were not my thing. Years later, I went on to get a Bachelor of Science degree and have loved animals, the beach, and things pertaining to nature ever since.

Tell us about some of the jobs you’ve had before you became a writer.  
I began babysitting and had a neighborhood carwash business at age 11. Then in my teen years, I worked in a movie theatre and eventually had jobs as a secretary, bookkeeper, bartender, waitress, social worker, and volunteer coordinator.

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How did you get started writing?    
I was writing reports and newsletters in some of my full-time jobs, but when I retired, I felt a need to write a book as a tribute to my beloved corgi rescue dogs who came to my aid during a debilitating illness—hence, my first book in 2004, The Courageous Corgi, which is based on a true story. My two corgis came over to America from Wales and since my family also came to America from Europe, it became kind of autobiographical. I was thrilled when a London magazine picked up the story, and I even received a letter from Queen Elizabeth’s secretary regarding my book! Best Friends Magazine was the first to review The Courageous Corgi and just being a tiny part of the no-kill movement and seeing the growth in animal rescue is beyond words! Over the years, our family has had a number of rescue dogs, and currently my husband and I have two rescues—a standard poodle and a cocker spaniel. They came as a bonded pair and these “brothers” make us rich in love and teach us that the simplest pleasures in life are things that money just can’t buy.

Why do you write books?   
I love the creative process of telling a story, envisioning the cover, the art work, etc., but most importantly, want to convey a message in what I write. I want people to feel good at the conclusion of my books and take away something to inspire them as they go about their daily lives.

What do you like best about writing?   
I love watching the story unfold as it all comes together in a neat package.

What do you find the most challenging about writing?   
Multiple edits and rewrites to get the story and syntax just right can be very challenging, especially when you are trying to remember all your grammar rules from so many years ago.

What do you think makes a good story?   
Inspiration from a true event or place that the writer has experienced and has a passion for makes a great story. Write what you know.

Where do you get your inspiration?   
My inspiration these days are the animals and the beauty of our surrounding environment and wanting to share this message of protecting and conserving what is right in front of all of us. Also, my mother was my role model as she was a terrific writer and had a weekly column in our local newspaper as I grew up. She wrote poems during World War II, which unfortunately have been lost, but she also wrote a beautiful synthesis about immigration and her family in the early 1900’s, coming to America in steerage through Ellis Island.

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Tell us about your latest book.  
Ace, King of My Heart is my latest book and is a celebration of the 50th birthday of Assateague Island National Seashore and the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. It tells the story of the herd behavior of the wild horses on the barrier island off the coast of Maryland and incorporates the animals and plants of the ecosystems that co-exist with the horses on Assateague. The herd on the Maryland side of the island are never rounded up and sold. They are allowed to live out their days as free, wild animals. The book was written at the time of the first round of talks regarding off-shore drilling off the coast of Maryland, and I wanted to capture a snapshot of what Assateague was like at that moment in time, through the eyes of a young colt, so that no matter what happens in the future, we will always have a mental picture of the island before any man-made intervention.

I remember listening to the baseball games with my dad on the radio, and the announcers were so adept at describing everything that you could envision it, and it was like you were sitting right in the stands at the ballpark. That is what I try to do when I am writing a story so that you feel like you are in that place and time. The park rangers and so many people that take care of Assateague State and National Park need to be commended for the terrific job they do, and a special shout-out to all that helped with the book! I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my husband, who has worked with me and whose photographs served as templates for many of the illustrations in Ace, King of My Heart.

What’s next for you?   
I don’t think I am finished with the Maryland Eastern Shore as we have such bounteous gifts of beauty of our natural environment, and there are still more stories to tell.

Is there anything we didn’t ask that you’d like people to know about you and/or your books?
I’d like people to know that every person can have a second act, or a third act in life, and whatever that is, use your talents to try and make our world a better place. Take a chance, take a risk, and just go for it!

Lea's books are available on Amazon.com.

 

Clash of the Pronouns: Colossal Battles in a Book of Dinosaur Riddles

 

 

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by Noelle Sterne, Ph.D.

Writing a children’s book of riddles about dinosaurs may not seem an obvious arena for a clash over sexism. But during the final manuscript editing of my Tyrannosaurus Wrecks: A Book of Dinosaur Riddles (HarperCollins), with shock and frustration, I fought the battle of the dinosaur pronouns.

Nouns were natural for most of the 146 riddles—mother or father scenes, fairy tale characters. For the 35 riddles requiring a pronoun, in the earliest drafts I used the masculine form. But my (female) editor and I agreed that in the final version the feminine should get equal representation. A simple matter, we thought. We couldn’t have been more immensely wrong! Our painful conversation lasted a good hour. Despite women’s great strides, I saw how subtly sexual stereotypes still influence our language. 

Tyrannosaurus Wrecks is a just-for-fun children’s book. The riddles are punny, groany, and giggly, with no hidden agendas for gender-biased propaganda. Yet my editor and I were besieged by plaguing pronoun questions: What would support or offend various viewpoints? What would truly express our own convictions? What would aid or damage sales? And how much should a book mainly for entertainment defer to issues of social change?

Priorities kept changing and sometimes bashed head-on. The hostilities, and final truces, fell into three main camps:

1. Entrenched Male Stereotypes—Almost impenetrable stereotypical male occupations or activities forced us to keep the male pronoun.
2. Damaging Female Stereotypes—When the female pronoun would fortify stereotypes, we capitulated to the male.
3. Breaking Through the Stereotypes—We stormed the pronominal bastions with either pronoun, neutralizing stereotypes of both genders and illustrating positive role or behavior changes.

Entrenched Male Stereotypes
The Entrenched Male Stereotypes glared out at me, and one of the most glaring was cowboys. Only two cowgirls spring to mind—Annie Oakley and Dale Evans, and they weren’t exactly typical ranchhands. The male had this area tightly roped off:

Why was the Pentaceratops a good cattle rancher?
Because he had a lot of longhorns.

To bring us current, there’s the executive. This one really hurt, especially since so many women today are successful (and with their own Dino’s Club cards). But there were no women CEOS in the Fortune 500 companies at the time the book was published. In the latest update in 2017, only 6.4% of CEOs in Fortune 500 companies were women. So, despite a few eminent exceptions, most women climbing to the glass ceiling succeed only in windexing it. Again the male pronoun was firmly wedged: 

Where does the dinosaur company president sit?
At his Tyrannosaurus desk.

Damaging Female Stereotypes
The second pronoun problem involved the largest number of riddles. Damaging Female Stereotypes kept surfacing in an insidious array of common, apparently harmless situations. We felt forced to keep the male pronoun to blunt female stereotypes of foolishness, ineptitude, or weakness. For example, that women are bad drivers:

Why is a dinosaur dangerous at the wheel of a car?
He’s a back-feet driver.

The clincher, though, for the male in several riddles was that little word “weight.” We women wrestle incessantly with the “right” body image that dominates our culture and wastes our energies. The male pronoun had to be used with blatant excess pounds: 

Why did the dinosaur go on a diet?
He weighed too much for his scales.

But the most damaging female stereotype was the ancient stamp of woman as sex object, which insinuated itself into many riddles. In protest against antediluvian sexism, we kept the male pronoun.

Why did the Stegosaurus go to the car repair shop?
So they could fix his broken tail spike.

What instrument does a dinosaur fossil play?
His trom-bone.

We kept the male pronoun because a bawdily graphic picture surfaces with her broken tail spike, which could attract a little too much attention. And what about that instrument? If she were playing, could she be accused of barely disguised piccolo envy?

Breaking Through the Stereotypes
I’m very glad to say, though, that with several riddles we really could break through the stereotypes. Some riddles reversed women’s traditional roles and others enlarged the possibilities for either sex in previously exclusive domains. In one riddle, we countered woman as the perpetual sole food supplier:

What did the dinosaur say as he lugged home the groceries?
“Oh, my aching Brachio-saurus!”

Woman’s driving cruised with no sexist implications and the added bonus that she can, and does, pay her own way:

What does a dinosaur pay when she drives over a bridge?
A reptoll.

At least one occupation broke through entrenched activities for both men and women. With children’s piano teachers stereotypically female, the male pronoun here was especially gratifying.

    What did the dinosaur piano teacher tell his students?
    “Be sure and practice your scales.”

The final two examples also gladdened my heart. In the first, woman is more than a body:

    What did the dinosaur say when she bought a new book?
    “I can really sink my teeth into this.”

A lifelong reader and writer, I could identify. And my blood surged at her biting intelligence. In the other riddle, a traditional role is reversed as a fine female speaks her mind:

    What does the dinosaur say to her sweetheart on Valentine’s Day?
    “I’m mud about you!”

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So, this is the saga of my dinosaur pronoun battle. Maybe it reopened some old wounds and left a few scars, but after the mud settled, the women held their own. Yet, I await the day when our language finally fashions a third set of pronouns that serves both sexes with equal rightness. On that day, with a book of dinosaur riddles or any other subject, male and female pronouns will provoke no fighting words (especially pronouns), even from the most fossilized among us.

Noelle Sterne, Ph.D. is a published author, editor, and writing coach. Visit her at www.trustyourlifenow.com.

Remembering Mister Rogers

by Melissa Fales

photos courtesy of The Fred Rogers Company

photos courtesy of The Fred Rogers Company

Fifty years ago, children scattered in living rooms across America were first invited to visit Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Beginning in 1968, Fred Rogers became an on-screen friend to countless young people who were drawn in and put at ease by his calm demeanor, melodious voice, and his assertion that he liked them, just the way they were.

Ironically, as Rogers often shared, it was his dislike for the medium of TV that led him to create the beloved show. He once told CNN’s Jeff Greenfield, “I went into television because I hated it so, and I thought there’s some way of using this fabulous instrument to nurture those who would watch and listen.”

Born in 1928 in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, Rogers grew up singing and playing the piano at the knee of his maternal grandfather, Fred McFeely. He attended Rollins College, earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Music Composition in 1951 and meeting the woman who would later become his wife, concert pianist Joanne Byrd.

Rogers got his start in television working for NBC right out of college, parlaying his significant musical ability into jobs on shows such as The Voice of Firestone, The Lucky Strike Hit Parade, and The Kate Smith Hour. He also dabbled in work for several children’s shows, but his aversion to the merchandising so closely tied into children’s programming led him elsewhere.

In 1954, Rogers began working as a puppeteer on The Children’s Corner, a Pittsburgh Public Television show, where he found relief from the consumerism of commercial TV. During the several years he spent with the show, he introduced some of his most beloved puppet characters: King Friday XII, Henrietta Pussycat, Lady Elaine Fairchilde, and Daniel Striped Tiger.

Rogers also spent time in Canada, working on a short-lived children’s program called Misterogers where some of his most recognizable backdrops and props originated, including the trolley, the huge tree, and the majestic castle belonging to his highness, King Friday XII. Rogers later acquired the rights to that show and returned to Pittsburgh where he created Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. It first aired nationwide in 1968 through National Educational Television, a precursor to Public Broadcasting Service (PBS).

In 1969, the impactful testimony Rogers gave in front of the United States Senate Subcommittee on Communications in support of funding for PBS and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting was hailed as a game-changer. In his soft-spoken manner, Rogers deftly made the case that children’s programming on public television addressed a need in society and served as an antithesis to the troubling messages that so commonly infiltrated television programming. He also sang one of his songs from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Instead of the cuts that were planned, Congress went on to appropriate $22 million, more than double the previous years’ funding for public broadcasting, and Committee Chairman Senator John Pastore famously told Rogers that he’d earned those millions.

Those funds also helped the PBS hit show Sesame Street become the blockbuster it was. Sonia Manzano, who portrayed Maria on Sesame Street for 44 years, appreciated how Rogers’ show complemented hers. “Sesame Street and Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood were the perfect combination of children’s programming in the early 1970s, with Sesame Street’s emphasis on cognitive skills and Mister Rogers’ emphasis on social, emotional interaction,” she says.

Each episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood opens the same way, with Rogers returning home singing, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” before changing into his trademark sneakers and cardigan sweater. Episodes typically feature interactions with various “neighbors” and make-believe adventures with puppets, interspersed with Rogers’ musical compositions. The concept behind the show relies largely on his soothing presence, unhurried pace, and ability to connect with children.

During most episodes, Rogers takes his viewers on a field trip, introducing children to the types of places one might find in a neighborhood. One such field trip was to author/illustrator Eric Carle’s studio. “It was an honor to work with him and appear on his TV show,” says Carle. “We read my book From Head to Toe together and painted tissue papers. It was an absolute pleasure to visit and paint papers together, both of us in our white smock jackets. The way he spoke to children was so calm and kind and respectful. I will always remember Fred with great fondness and admiration. We are so fortunate for all that he gave to the world.”

The best part about Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood is that Rogers was simply being himself on screen. “One of the greatest gifts you can give anybody is the gift of your honest self,” Rogers once said. “I also believe that kids can spot a phony a mile away.” That’s how he lived his life and how he filmed his television program. “Fred Rogers was authentic,” says Manzano. “That’s why all the satirized versions of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood that we all enjoyed, couldn’t touch or diminish him.”

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Many children, like author Kate DiCamillo, found refuge in Rogers’ placidity. DiCamillo, who was often ill as a child, still remembers how he made her feel every time she watched an episode. “I spent a lot of time in the hospital when I was really young, and I remember the nurses letting me sit on a green, vinyl-covered couch in the hospital lounge (this was before hospital rooms had TVs) so that I could watch Mister Rogers,” she says. “I remember feeling lousy. I remember that the vinyl of the couch was cold against my legs. And I remember being worried that I would do something wrong and get sent back to my room and miss the show. And then Mister Rogers came on, and nothing mattered. I didn’t feel sick. I didn’t feel cold. I wasn’t worried. Mr. Rogers made me feel safe.”

Over the course of its three decades on air, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood won four Emmy awards. Rogers earned a Lifetime Achievement Award, 40 honorary degrees, and induction into the Television Hall of Fame. Less than a year before Rogers passed away in 2003, President George W. Bush presented him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

When it comes to Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, however, it’s not about awards or accolades. Rogers never sought those out. Instead, it’s about how he made people feel and continues to make people feel today. And one thing everyone in the neighborhood can agree on is that “It’s such a good feeling, a very good feeling.” •

For more information about Fred Rogers and his legacy, visit fredrogers.org.

Find more stories like this in the June issue of Story Monsters Ink! The literary resource for teachers, librarians, and parents!

One to Read: Wé McDonald

by Melissa Fales

photo by Kimeth McClellan

photo by Kimeth McClellan

In 2016, an unforgettable 17-year-old singer took NBC’s The Voice by storm, unleashing her powerful sound and sharing her poignant journey from childhood bullying victim to rising star and anti-bullying advocate. In an effort to bring her inspiring story to more young people, Wé McDonald has recently released a children’s book. In The Little Girl with the Big Voice, McDonald writes about enduring and ultimately overcoming the vicious taunting she suffered. “My book touches on bullying, but it ends with me on stage, being triumphant and realizing that I don’t have to change who I am for people to like me,” says McDonald. “I think that’s a very important message for kids today. It’s something more kids need to hear.”

Growing up in Harlem surrounded by her family of talented musicians, McDonald thought being able to sing was a universal trait. She didn’t realize she had a special gift until she was 12 years old. “I liked to sing, but I didn’t know I was good at it,” she says. “I thought everyone could sing until I found out that being tone deaf was a thing.”

McDonald’s naturally high-pitched speaking voice, a stark contrast from the deep singing voice her fans enjoy, combined with her need to wear thick eyeglasses, made her a target for bullies in her school. At home, she sought comfort from her family and especially from music. “I’d turn on the radio and write in my Barbie diary,” says McDonald. “Listening to music always made me feel better.”

Being bullied drove McDonald to want to sing even more. “Singing was the best way I knew how to express myself,” she says. “I thought I couldn’t be the only person feeling like this.” And since music had always soothed her when she was feeling down, McDonald decided to pursue a career in music where she could use its ability to heal to help others. “I wanted to give that same comfort to others,” she says. “I wanted to give reassurance to anyone who was struggling that things were going to be alright.”

When McDonald was in eighth grade, she started taking vocal lessons through an afterschool program at Harlem School of the Arts. “At first I was horrified,” says McDonald. “I figured it would be a new place and new people to make fun of me. But it ended up being the best thing that ever happened to me.” As she grew, so did her voice, her polish, and her professionalism. She went on to perform at major venues including the renowned Apollo Theater, Lincoln Center, and Carnegie Hall. She is currently studying jazz vocals at William Patterson University.

McDonald will be releasing an EP soon. The lyrics to her recently-released new single, “Head Up High,” are featured on the back of The Little Girl with the Big Voice. She says she enjoyed her turn at being an author, but she plans to release more music before she writes another book. “I don’t approach singing and writing in the same way, but I do approach both of those things with the same heart and passion,” she says.

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Viewers of The Voice witnessed that heart and passion throughout McDonald’s appearance on the show. It all started when her father surprised her with a ticket to the Philadelphia auditions. There, McDonald and her father were hauled into a huge center with a few thousand other people. “It was really early in the morning, too, but the mood was electric,” she recalls. One of the most memorable points in the process was waiting to hear if McDonald made it to the blind audition round. “We were in our hotel room and we got a call that they were having a meeting and they wanted us there,” she says, adding that she went into a full-blown instant panic. “I thought that we were late for something, that we didn’t look at the schedule correctly, or that we had messed up,” says McDonald. When she arrived at the meeting, there were only a few other contestants there. When the announcement came that they’d made it to the blind auditions, McDonald was floored. “It was so surreal,” she says. “It was an unbelievable feeling.”

During her blind audition, McDonald belted out a rendition of “Feeling Good” that compelled all four judges to turn their chairs around, indicating an interest in having her on their team. Honestly, I only remember some of it,” McDonald says. “It was so overwhelming.” Miley Cyrus, Alicia Keys, and Blake Shelton had all turned around when McDonald closed her eyes briefly during the tune. “When I opened my eyes, Adam (Levine) had turned around,” says McDonald. “I couldn’t help it. I freaked out a little. I had a moment.”

McDonald, who ultimately placed third overall, chose to work with Keys as her mentor, but says she gleaned valuable advice from all four of the show’s star coaches. “When you have musicians like this sharing what they’ve learned throughout their experience in life with you and helping you, it’s priceless,” says McDonald. “With my book, I feel like it’s my turn to share what I’ve learned from my experiences. I hope I can help others who were in my situation.”

In The Little Girl with the Big Voice, McDonald offers a very personal look into her own transformation. “This book is really about my journey,” she says. “It shows how I used to try to change who I was just to make people like me, but it ends with happiness. When kids read it, I want them to take away that confidence is beautiful in people no matter what they look like. You can have a small beginning, but if you work hard, you can end up on top. You have the right to fight for that.” •

Read more stories like this in the June issue of Story Monsters Ink! The literary resource for teachers, librarians, and parents.

 

ESPN Host Mike Greenberg Pens a Loveable Tale about a Furry MVP

by Melissa Fales

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Popular ESPN television personality Mike Greenberg is not only a trusted sports authority, a member of the NAB Broadcasting Hall of Fame, and a New York Times bestselling author, he’s also a passionate opponent of cancer. He and his wife, Stacy Steponate Greenberg recently co-wrote a children’s book, MVP: Most Valuable Puppy (Aladdin/Simon & Schuster), and they are donating all of their proceeds from it to help fight pediatric cancer.

“Everything we ever make from this book will go towards cancer research, until there is a cure,” says Greenberg. “It’s very gratifying for us to be able to do something that can make a difference in this world.”

Greenberg’s inspiration to raise money for cancer research traces back to 2009 when Stacy’s friend, Heidi Armitage, was diagnosed with breast cancer. “It had spread to her bones by the time it was discovered and she died that same year,” he says. “She was dealt cards you don’t come back from and that was just the most unjust thing I had ever seen.”

Wild emotions raced through Greenberg’s head during Armitage’s memorial service. “She was outdoorsy, she didn’t smoke, she was a healthy eater,” he says. “I remember staring at the backs of her children’s heads—they were both under 10 years old at the time—and I was sad, but more than sad. I was angry. It wasn’t fair. I was livid because this was such an injustice.”

Greenberg transformed his anger into action and in 2013, he and Stacy created Heidi’s Angels, a foundation to raise money for cancer research. That same year, Greenberg released his debut novel, All You Could Ask For, about women trying to keep their everyday lives and friendships intact while battling cancer. He’s donated all of his proceeds from the novel to Heidi’s Angels to fund anti-cancer efforts.

Greenberg, who has been with ESPN since 1996, is most well-known for Mike and Mike, the long-running show with Mike Golic, and now the new morning show, Get Up. However, Greenberg says he’s always wanted to be a writer, something he traces back to his childhood spent browsing through the bookstore his parents owned and operated. “I got into broadcasting as a way to pay the bills while trying to write the great American novel,” he says. His first book, Why My Wife Thinks I’m an Idiot: The Life and Times of a Sportscaster Dad was released in 2006 and became a New York Times bestseller. His novel My Father’s Wives was released in 2015.

Most recently, says Greenberg, thanks to the photos he and Stacy have posted on social media, he’s gained clout not for his broadcasting or his writing, but for his dog, Phoebe, an Australian Labradoodle with a pink tail (it was originally dyed pink when Heidi passed away as a subtle tribute to her battle with breast cancer). “We had been thinking about a new project to raise more money for Heidi’s Angels,” says Greenberg. “It was Stacy who came up with the idea to create a kids’ book, starring Phoebe.”

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MVP: Most Valuable Puppy is a charming tale about a girl and her dog. “It’s about a little girl who likes sports and learns how to play from her dog,” Greenberg says. “There are a lot of sports books about little boys, but this one is different. And we don’t make a big deal of the fact that it’s about a girl. She’s just a girl out there playing with the other kids and having a blast.” There’s nothing morose about the story. “This isn’t a book about cancer,” Greenberg says. “In fact, there’s no mention of cancer in the book. It’s a classic children’s story. You can read it to a 2- or 3-year-old and an older child might be able to read it themselves. It has a nice message for kids to take away.”

Greenberg says illustrator Bonnie Pang’s depiction of Phoebe is spot-on. “She brought our dog to life,” he says. “She did a sensational job not only of creating a dog that looks just like Phoebe, but conveying her when she’s animated. There’s almost a magical quality in how she jumps off the page.” Greenberg, unabashedly smitten with Phoebe, unapologetically calls her “the world’s cutest dog” and says kids who read the book will grow to adore her, too.

Interestingly, Greenberg’s experiences with Phoebe are his first as a dog owner. “I never had a dog growing up,” says Greenberg. “In fact, I was afraid of dogs my whole life.” His fear stems back to an incident when he was just 6 years old and visiting a friend’s house. “We were wrestling as little boys do, but his little dog thought I was attacking him,” recalls Greenberg. “He came racing over and bit me. That was it. I was terrified of dogs ever since.”

Years later, Greenberg found himself at odds with his wife and kids, all of whom wanted a dog. “I was the lone holdout,” he says. “That experience as a 6-yearold really stuck with me.” Finally, he was talked into it. “You know, I never understood why people loved dogs so much,” he says. “But now I have Phoebe.”

Earlier this year, ESPN legend Dick Vitale asked Greenberg to be an honoree at his V Foundation for Cancer Research Gala in May, recognizing Greenberg for his work with Heidi’s Angels. “I was extremely moved and touched by it,” says Greenberg. With MVP: Most Valuable Puppy set to be released just days before the gala, the Greenbergs decided to acknowledge Vitale’s personal crusade to combat pediatric cancer by donating their proceeds from the book to fund pediatric cancer research. “Stacy and I talked about it, and thought it was appropriate, especially since it’s a children’s book,” says Greenberg. “We knew that Heidi would have loved the idea.” •

Find more stories like this in the June issue of Story Monsters Ink! The literary resource for teachers, librarians, and parents.

One to Watch: Siena Agudong

by Melissa Fales

photo by Travis Hayes

photo by Travis Hayes

Nickelodeon’s new show, Star Falls, features Siena Agudong as Sophia Miller, a teen with a seemingly endless arsenal of ploys aimed at setting her single mother up with one of Hollywood’s most eligible bachelors. When movie star Craig Brooks lands in her small town for a filming project with his three children in tow, Sophia takes advantage of the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play matchmaker for her mom.

Agudong, 13, admits there are some similarities between her and the character she portrays. “She is a huge schemer, and although I have fun with pranks, I am not as mischievous as
Sophia,” she says.

Born in Hawaii, Agudong was acting by the time she was 7 years old. “I grew up watching my older sister, Sydney, do a lot of theatre,” she says. “I was so inspired. I started doing theatre as well and fell in love with everything about acting.” The first time Agudong took the stage was in Willy Wonka and her first role was portraying an Oompa Loompa. “I was so excited when I found out that I was the Oompa Loompa that got to say, in a very deep voice, ‘Doopa Dee Doo,’” she says.

Agudong transitioned from the theatre into TV by playing Lulu Parker on the ABC drama, Killer Women. She went on to become a regular guest star on Nickelodeon’s popular Nicky, Ricky, Dicky & Dawn. She also appeared as Tiffany on TV Land’s Teachers, winning a 2017 Young Entertainer Award for “Best Guest Starring Young Actress 12 and Under” for her performance.

According to Agudong, these acting jobs were a valuable learning experience. “They were so incredibly fun,” she says. “I got so close to the casts I worked with and I appreciate being able to grow as an actor from those projects.”

Now, Agudong has the lead role in Star Falls. “Sophia comes up with a lot of sneaky and persuasive ways to get Craig Brooks and his three children, Diamond, Phoenix and Bo, to stay at her house,” she says. There’s a little bit of culture shock and a lot of laughs. “Sophia and Diamond try everything they can to set up their totally different parents,” says Agudong. “There are a lot of crazy challenges that arise when the two completely different families try to live under one roof.”

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When she’s not acting, Agudong likes playing with her dogs and spending time with her family. “Or you can find me on the soccer field playing my heart out,” she says. All that soccer playing paid off with Agudong landing a role in the upcoming Warner Brothers movie Alex & Me alongside Olympic gold medalist and U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team member Alex Morgan. In Alex & Me, Agudong plays Reagan Wills, a big Alex Morgan fan. “Reagan is a passionate soccer player who dreams about being on a certain team but when she doesn’t make the cut, she is devastated,” says Agudong.

When Reagan accidentally bumps her head, her life-size Alex Morgan poster magically comes alive and becomes a friend, trainer, and coach to Reagan. “From that point on, everything changes for Reagan because she now has U.S. soccer star Alex Morgan to help her,” she says.

Agudong says she enjoys every aspect of acting. “I love the adrenaline of going to set and not knowing what to expect,” she says. I also absolutely love adopting another person’s life for a day and experiencing many events that I may not actually encounter in my own life.”

For Agudong, one of the hardest parts about being an actress is trying to fit everything into her very busy schedule. “It’s very challenging to juggle full-time school and a full-time filming schedule but it is so worth it to me in the end.” When things get tough, Agudong turns to her role models for inspiration. Her biggest inspiration is her sister Sydney, but she also looks up to Selena Gomez and Liza Koshy. “I admire how hard Selena Gomez works to achieve her dreams and her honesty and humbleness,” she says. “Liza is so incredibly confident, silly, and not hesitant to be herself. I adore that so much. She is so pure.”

Agudong says she’s aware that girls will be looking to her for guidance on how to act and what to do. “I really want to be a role model for others,” says Agudong. “I know how significant it is to have one. It’s very important for me to be a positive example for girls my age.” As far as future plans, Agudong envisions herself continuing with acting. “I have every intention of pursing my acting career when I’m an adult,” she says. “This is what I want to do and I truly enjoy every second of this amazing journey and feel so blessed and grateful.” •

Find more stories like this in the June issue of Story Monsters Ink! The literary resource for teachers, librarians, and parents!

 

Astronaut Clayton Anderson Launches Little Readers on an A to Z Mission

by Melissa Fales

photo courtesy of NASA

photo courtesy of NASA

As Nebraska’s first and only astronaut, Clayton Anderson holds the sole privilege of representing the Cornhusker State in space. Being selected by NASA in 1998 was a lifelong dream come true for Anderson, as evidenced by the faded newspaper clipping he has of a photo taken of him at the Ashland Summer Carnival in the mid-1960s.

In it, he’s 6 years old and dressed for the children’s parade in a handmade astronaut costume, complete with a helmet made out of a hat box and a lot of aluminum foil. “My mother always said that when I was a little boy, I often told her I was going to become an astronaut one day,” he says. Since retiring from space travel, Anderson has been busy writing books, including his first, The Ordinary Spaceman: From Boyhood Dreams to Astronaut, released in 2015, and his first children’s book, A is for Astronaut: Blasting Through the Alphabet, released in March.

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Writing a book for kids wasn’t even on Anderson’s radar until a friend who manages a bookstore told him about the numerous titles in the Sleeping Bear Press Alphabet series. “They don’t have a space one yet,” she hinted. The result is an A to Z journey filled with space words, a poem for each letter, and fascinating facts about NASA. “I wrote down the alphabet and picked a word for each letter,” he says. “I had multiple choices for a few of them. I finished the poems in less than a week. I thought that was the really fun part.”

Anderson praised the book’s illustrations by Scott Brundage. “They’re very visually impactful,” he says. Anderson also wrote the sidebar information on each page which gives children a deeper glimpse into what it’s like to be an astronaut. “It’s a book that can really grow with the kids,” he says. “Small children might only be able to read the letters on their own. As they get older, they’ll be able to read the poems. And as their reading skills improve, they’ll be able to learn something about space.”

Anderson hopes A is for Astronaut will spur a curiosity about space among his young readers, similar to the way he was indelibly affected on Christmas Eve 1968 by watching the Apollo 8 mission orbit the moon on TV. “Listening to the communication between ground control and that command module 239,000 miles into space was incredible,” he says. “I remember that tension and that drama and that excitement when they re-established contact after a long period of static. That was a huge Wow! for me. That really planted a seed in my head.”

Of the 30 years Anderson spent with NASA beginning in 1983, the first 15 were as an aerospace engineer. For the last two years before he was selected as an astronaut, he was the manager of the Emergency Operations Center at Johnson Space Center in Houston. “I knew little to nothing about managing emergencies, but NASA had taught me a lot about planning, training, and flying,” he says. “I was able to take the plan, train, and execute methodology from space flight and apply it to emergency response.”

Anderson was fortunate in that although he was completely prepared, he never had to deal with a real emergency. “We simulated a ton of them, just like we do in space flight,” he says. “We simulate all the time so when the time comes, you’re ready.”

Spending 167 days in space took guts, determination, and especially perseverance, since Anderson submitted 15 applications to NASA before he was finally accepted as an astronaut. “That’s supposedly a record,” says Anderson. “Applying to become an astronaut is easy. Getting selected is hard. I just didn’t give up.”

The application, according to Anderson, is tedious, involving hours of work. “Once it’s done, it’s relatively simple to update it every year,” he says. So he did … again and again. After the 13th try, Anderson was called in for an interview. “At that point the flame was lit,” he says. It still took two more tries, but Anderson knew he was getting closer to his goal.

In all, Anderson had the opportunity to experience six space walks, spend five months on the International Space Station, and fly on two space shuttles: Atlantis and Discovery. In 2013, he retired from NASA and embarked on a writing career. In June, Anderson’s third book will be released. It’s a Question of Space: An Ordinary Astronaut’s Answers to Sometimes Extraordinary Questions is a collection of the often thoughtful and sometimes inane inquiries Anderson has received about space over the years.

The most perennial topic, according to Anderson, is food. “The food in space is pretty good, actually,” he shares. “I got to eat both Russian food and American food. The Russian food was preferable. I definitely did not starve.”

Anderson says he hopes It’s a Question of Space will encourage young adults to consider space exploration and other STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) fields when they think about their career choices. “It’s important that we get kids excited about STEAM,” he says. “It’s really important to the future of America that our children are focused on these kinds of disciplines. These are the people who are going to be the problem-solvers of the future.”

Looking ahead, Anderson says he plans to continue his schedule of speaking engagements and to keep writing. “My mantra is: I write to inspire, to entertain, and to educate,” he says. “I can’t get in front of audiences everywhere, but if people choose to look at my books, that gives me an additional avenue and a different way to inspire them.”

Read more stories like this in the June issue of Story Monsters Ink! The literary resource for teachers, librarians, and parents!

Debbie Wideroe Inspires Eco-Awareness with Children’s Book Series

by Melissa Fales

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Once, Debbie Wideroe awoke from an especially vivid dream and jotted down “The Adventures of Camellia N.” on the notepad she keeps next to her bed. It didn’t mean much to her at the time, but she couldn’t shake the feeling that those words had significance. “I couldn’t get rid of it,” says Wideroe. “Then, literally, one day it took over and I instantly knew what I wanted to do.” That’s how Wideroe’s popular The Adventures of Camellia N. series came to be.

Published by Notable Kids Publishing, she’s already released the first two books of a planned set of nine, drafted with the hope that reading about Camellia’s magical experiences all over the globe will help children develop a deeper appreciation for our planet.

Growing up, Wideroe was strongly influenced by her father, a fervent believer in sustainability before the term became widely used. “I grew up with the idea of reuse, recycle, repurpose,” she says. “I developed an innate sensibility of taking care of the earth without even thinking about it.” Wideroe started writing at age six and never stopped, compiling journals and poetry in addition to magazine columns and stories.

Her eco-conscious upbringing and way with words set the stage for her future as a children’s author of environmentally-themed books. However, children’s literature wasn’t the first step in her career. Instead, Wideroe did stints in children’s television, marketing, and teaching. “While I was at Harvard University for graduate school, I was lucky enough to study under Dr. Gerry Lesser, one of the creators of Sesame Street,” she says. She went on to be in charge of marketing for Warner Brothers’ Baby Looney Tunes and other animated properties. And although she didn’t set out to become a teacher, she’s taught advertising and marketing at Pepperdine University for nearly 20 years. “It just kind of happened,” she says.

All of these experiences combined to make Wideroe uniquely qualified to write The Adventures of Camellia N. series. In the books, little Camellia N. visits faraway places around the globe each night in her dreams, meeting different animals along the way. Wideroe says over the course of the nine books, Camellia will visit all seven continents as well as deep space and the deep sea. “I like the idea of introducing children to the magnificence of the earth at a young age,” she says. “I think the younger they are when you capture their interest, the better the chance that they are going to internalize those feelings of wonder and awe and want to care for the earth when they are older.”

Foremost in Wideroe’s mind when she writes Camellia’s adventures is an admonition from Lesser about keeping children’s books educationally accurate. “I always think about that,” she says. When she’s researching a new location for Camellia to visit, she consults with wildlife professionals for the latest information about the region and its creatures. “I go to the experts for this,” she says. “I’m not a scientist. They tell me which animals are endangered, some critically so, and I weave them into the stories. I try to highlight the coolest things about all of the creatures and show how incredible they are. If kids find these animals amazing, perhaps they’ll want to take care of them.”

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The first two books in Wideroe’s series are The Arctic (the first-place winner of a Royal Dragonfly Book Award in the Green/Environmental category) and Under the Sea. The third book in the series, detailing Camellia’s trip to the Amazon rainforest, is due out this fall. “In 2020, when the Olympics happen in Asia, will be a perfect time to launch the book,” Wideroe says.

One thing that truly sets Wideroe and The Adventures of Camellia N. apart is the way her vision extends beyond her books and into other avenues where she can make a difference. “I see it as a book series, but it’s also a platform for change,” she says. For example, she started Camellia Kids Care, a global pen pal program that began with a match-up between a school in San Francisco and one in Norway. Her latest set of pen pals live in Calabasas, California and Zambia. “I want these kids to start to understand how interconnected Earth’s creatures and cultures are,” she says. “We’re already seeing that happen with the pen pal program. While they’re learning about a different culture, I hope they’re also learning that at the end of the day, we’re all the same. I hope they’re becoming global ambassadors. This is the next generation. These are the ones who are going to have the power to make big changes.”

Another one of Wideroe’s efforts is Camellia Cares, a partnership with Children’s Scholarship Fund that will allow her to teach low-income parents about fostering communication with their children. “Although this initiative is not tied to the environment, it is tied to literacy, which is another one of my passions,” says Wideroe. “I am a teacher, after all.”

Wideroe says her drive to complete the series has been buoyed by the many supporters of her books and her larger message, including people like Bill Richardson, former Governor of New Mexico, former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., and former Energy Secretary. “I’m fortunate and grateful to have influential people supporting and cheering for me,” she says. However, Wideroe says nothing is quite as rewarding as going into schools with her books and visiting with students. “You really feel it at that level,” she says. “When your book is sitting on the shelf, you don’t feel it as much. But when you’re watching little children reading it, you can see you’re making a dent. That’s when you know you’re touching people’s lives.” •

Check out more stories like this in the June issue of Story Monsters Ink!

Fathers Incorporated Partners with Little Free Library

by Melissa Fales

Real Dads Read Barbershop partner Freddie Johnson, III reading with Kenneth Braswell Jr. at Anytime Cutz in Atlanta.

Real Dads Read Barbershop partner Freddie Johnson, III reading with Kenneth Braswell Jr. at Anytime Cutz in Atlanta.

Having established 51 children’s libraries inside metro Atlanta barbershops through its Real Dads Read program, Fathers Incorporated is now joining forces with Little Free Library to get even more books into the hands of low-income children. This joint venture will result in an additional 50 Little Free Libraries installed at various Atlanta elementary schools, making books available to children even after school hours and on weekends.

“With this partnership, we’ll not only be increasing access to books for low-income children, we’ll also be increasing the engagement and involvement of fathers in their children’s education,” says Kenneth Braswell, executive director of Fathers Incorporated.

In 2004, Braswell founded the non-profit organization to encourage men to be more involved in their children’s lives. He says the move was in response to his experience growing up and his initial experience as a father himself. “I know personally what it means to not have a father in your life,” says Braswell, who regrets not being a more active participant in his eldest child’s life. “I was young and dumb,” he says. “I didn’t recognize the role I needed to play. When my second daughter was born, it crystallized for me the importance of my presence in my children’s lives.”

The Real Dads Read initiative that places children’s books in barbershops has been an overwhelming success for Fathers Incorporated. “Research shows that literacy in high-poverty areas isn’t due to a lack of interest in reading, it’s the lack of access to books,” says Braswell. Since children are allowed to take the books from the barbershop home and keep them, Real
Dads Read is constantly replenishing its stock, to the tune of roughly 250 books each month. “That’s exactly what we want,” says Braswell. “We want these kids to have books. We’re trying to reduce the number of book deserts, particularly in low-income communities where the majority of children do not have any books to read in their homes.”

The barbershop library project earned Real Dads Read a reputation for making a difference. Schools started calling Braswell for advice on how to get more fathers engaged in their classrooms. Last September, Braswell was at a school in Decatur when he had a big idea. “I thought that a Little Free Library would fit in perfectly with the outside of the school,” he
says.

Little Free Library is a non-profit organization that facilitates free book exchanges and sells
simple, attractive wooden boxes to house the books, or shares the blueprints to build one. Typically hung on a post, a Little Free Library often resembles a bird house and operates much like the “need a penny, take a penny” dish next to a cash register. “The idea is to let the library become part of the streetscape and part of the neighborhood,” says Braswell.

Braswell installed Little Free Libraries at three elementary schools in Decatur, posting photos of
the events on social media. When Little Free Library CEO Todd Bol happened to see them, he decided he wanted to learn more about Real Dads Read and contacted Braswell. “The rest is history,” Braswell says. “We’ve been pretty much joined at the hip ever since. Real Dads Read will be establishing reading clubs in each of the 50 schools that will receive a Little Free Library. “We want to engage fathers with some literary activities,” says Braswell. “We’re a father agency, not a literacy agency, but one thing we do know is that when fathers read with their children, good things happen.”

Little Free Library will also be partnering with Real Dads Read on a mobile unit project that places crates of children’s books in the back of specially-marked police cruisers. “The police car becomes a mobile library,” says Braswell. “The kids know that these officers have books. It helps to create a conversation between law enforcement and the children in their community. It builds connections.”

The project is set to start in Atlanta soon. In addition to its Real Dads Read efforts, Fathers Incorporated is launching a new campaign in June called Drive to Five. “With this program, we’re narrowing our focus to fathers who are raising children ages infant to 5 years old,” says Braswell. “We believe that this cohort is where we can make the largest impact on children.” According to Braswell, non-resident dads are far more likely to totally disconnect from their children by the time the children are age five than resident dads. “Forming lasting bonds during those first five years is absolutely crucial,” says Braswell. “I’ve seen the impact that
fatherlessness has on communities, especially low-income communities. It’s devastating. This work we do is to ensure that the dads we work with are as intimately connected as early as possible.”

One aspect of Drive to Five will be to provide educational materials about responsible parenting to new fathers and fathers-to-be. The branding for Drive to Five features a superhero cartoon character named Adam, and Braswell says he wants regular, everyday dads to learn to see themselves this way. “He’s not Super Dad,” says Braswell. “Yes, he’s standing there with a cape, but he can’t stop bullets in his teeth. He doesn’t have x-ray vision. What he does have is Daddy
power. When a father reads with his child, that’s a power. When he has a positive interaction with the mother of his child, that’s another power. I want every father to understand how much daddy power he has. Each father has to activate his own powers, but he has to be aware of them first. That’s where we come in.” •

Check out more great articles like this in the June issue of Story Monsters Ink!