Wednesday, December 21, 2011

'Twas the Morning of Christmas

My writer friend, Susanna Leonard Hill, is hosting a contest on her blog - sorry, the deadline is 11:59 EST tomorrow night, so that doesn't give you much time to write a story and enter! Here's the link if you want to enter or if you just want to read the amazing versions of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas! 

Susanna will choose three finalists and, on December 26th, she'll post them on her blog where her blog-followers can vote for their favorite. The winner will receive their choice of either a $15 Amazon gift card or the 2012 Children's Writers and Illustrators Market!

So, I wrote my own version of the story and have posted it below. Even if I don't make it to the finals, it was a lot of fun writing it!

I wish you all a very Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah or Happy Kwanzaa!

'Twas the Morning of Christmas
'Twas the morning of Christmas with nothing much newish,
No stockings, no presents, no tree - 'cause we're Jewish

But still, Christmas day is a very big deal
    We have our traditions and big family meal.

    We lounge ‘round the house since we're not in a hurry,
    We stay in our jammies and mukluks, so furry.

    For breakfast we toast up some bagels to eat,
    With layers of cream cheese and lox - what a treat!

    We talk and tell stories and play a few games,
    We light a nice fire and we gaze at the flames.

    We eat Chinese dinner; they serve up big portions
    and then, for dessert, we have cookies with fortunes.

    We finish our feast, then we're off to the show,
    ‘Cause Jews go to movies on Christmas, you know.

    And on our drive home, we admire all the lights,
    Merry Christmas to all and - OY, what a night!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

2011 Illinois School Library Media Association Conference

Yesterday, I participated in the Illinois School Library Media Association's annual Author Breakfast & Showcase - it was a lot of fun!  During the breakfast, I sat with a wonderful group of librarians and teachers and we talked about children's books, libraries and schools.   After we ate, we heard from Jan Thomas, author of the 2011 Monarch Award winner - Rhyming Dust Bunnies and Leslea Newman, author of the 2011 Bluestem Award winner - Hachiko Waits.

After the breakfast, there was an author showcase where the Illinois authors sat at tables around the perimeter of the room and spoke to conference attendees and signed copies of their books.

If this were a video, you'd hear the crickets chirping :-)

November 2011 - PiBoIdMo

Attention all picture book writers!!!  

2011 PiBoIdMo begins in just two days, on November 1st!  I participated last year and created a fabulous file of story ideas.  Admittedly, not all are gems but there were a bunch with a lot of potential!  

Last year I was a guest poster but Tara is full-up this year (which is awesome) so I'm just a participant.
There's a Preview Day 1 post by Mindy Alyse Weiss up right now to get you started - check it out!

All registered writers will be entered into a drawing for wonderful prizes - one of which is an autographed copy of 1 Zany Zoo and a rhyming picture book critique by yours truly.  Head over to the site and sign up - what are you waiting for?!!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Comedy of Errors #4

It's time to share another faux pas.  Here we go . . .

I wanted to get a manicure and pedicure before my LA conference in August, so I called a place my friend, Jan, suggested.  I made an appointment and a couple of weeks later, I went for my mani/pedi (see how quickly I picked up the lingo?).  

When I walked in, they asked if I was the Living Social client.  I said, no I wasn't but I could be if they wanted me to - they didn't.  During my pedicure, Jen (the woman doing my nails) tried to think of how this mistake could have been made.  I suggested the receptionist wrote it on the wrong day.  They checked - nope.  Someone had another idea - nope . . . and another - no again.  It was really bothering them.

After my pedicure, while Jen was doing my manicure, she said, "It's so strange - the four-digit Living Social number is right next to your name."  Then it hit me - I knew exactly what happened!  When I had called to make my appointment, I thought the receptionist asked for the last four digits of my social security number - apparently she asked for my 4-digit Living Social number.  I thought, "Wow, they are really cautious!"  and, even though I thought it was odd, I gave it to her.  I explained this to Jen and told her the last four digits of my SS number; she checked the book and, sure enough, they were the same - mystery solved! MORON!

(These are not my feet)  :-)

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Comedy of Errors # 3 - parts 1 & 2

It's been a while since I've written about something stupid I've done - here's my latest.

Part 1: I was making my way down the aisle of the airplane, on my way home from the LA conference.  I was behind this really tall guy and, when we got to my row, he stopped and I said to him, "Oh good, I hoped you were sitting near me."  It was all over his face - "this lady is trying to pick me up!"  I quickly told him I just wanted him to put my bag in the overhead bin - that's it!  It was awkward, but at least I didn't have to talk to him anymore.

Part 2:  Wrong!  As luck would have it, his seat was next to mine and, after a few uneasy minutes, we began talking.   As a matter of fact, my friend Meg and I talked to him during the whole flight.  It turned out he was a semi-pro hockey player who was born in Spain, grew up in Canada, played hockey in France and currently lives in LA.  He was very knowledgeable, sweet and funny - plus he was really cute!  During our conversation, he mentioned how Meg's green eyes reminded him of his mother's and how rare green eyes are.  Then I butted in with, "My eyes were green until my late twenties, when they miraculously turned blue."  As soon as the words left my mouth, I wished I could have taken them back!  I sounded just like Kristen Wiig's character, Penelope, on Saturday Night Live!  Then I tried to add more details so it didn't sound like I was lying just to get attention.  The guy, Sergio, said, "Yea, I can see how they could have been green - they're pretty."  He was clearly afraid I'd have some sort of psychotic episode!  I stopped trying to convince them - I was only making things worse.  I was SO embarrassed, mostly because Meg and Sergio were trying so hard to make it seem as if it was a normal thing to say!

In case you don't know who Penelope is, or if you just want to see a hilarious skit, here's an example:

And, just to prove I am not a Penelope - here's a picture of me in 7th grade and you can clearly see my eyes are green!  You know I must be desperate to prove I'm not a psychotic one-upper, if I'm willing to share this picture :-)

Anyone else want to confess a Penelope moment?  Please!!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

2011 SCBWI LA Conference

Last week, Aug. 5 - 8, I attended the 40th annual SCBWI Summer Conference in LA.  The event was hosted by SCBWI founders Linn Oliver and Steve Mooser and they did an outstanding job!  The lineup of speakers was unbelievable and more than 1,350 people attended!  Here's a list of the keynote speakers (in the order of their appearances): Bruce Coville, Jerry Pinkney, Libba Bray, Emma Dryden, Donna Jo Napoli, David Small, Judy Bloom (surprise special guest), John Scieszka, Norton Juster, Mary Pope Osborne, Gary Paulsen and Laurie Halse Anderson.  Can you believe it?

The annual Saturday night pool party was a slumber party in honor of the 40th anniversary (40 winks).  Here are some pics from the party.

Here I am with my fabulous and hysterical roommates
Meg Flemming, Jenni Bielicki, and Heather Zenzen!
Just a handful of my fellow Illinois authors
(I don't know how Heather got in there)!

I finally met Shellie Braeuner, the first winner of the Cheerios New Author contest, in person.  She's so sweet!  We kept trying to get a picture with our books and a box of Cheerios but we could never coordinate it.  Here's a picture of us at the Friday night PAL book sale.

I had the opportunity to hang out with my agent, Jamie Weiss Chilton, on Saturday night at the gathering she hosted in the hotel bar and again on Monday at the end of the conference.  It's always nice to talk with her in person (I forgot to take a picture with her)!   Jamie and I discussed the great feedback I received from Andrea Welch, editor at Beach Lane Books and Steven Malk, agent at Writer's House - I'm so excited to be working on revisions!

There was a great write-up about the conference on Publishers Weekly - much better than I could have done - so I've linked it for you to read there.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

37th Annual Illinois Young Authors Conference

Last weekend, May 20th & 21st, I had the honor of being a guest author at the 37th Annual Illinois Young Authors Conference, sponsored by the Illinois Language and Literacy Council and the Illinois Reading Council!  The conference is a celebration to honor exceptional writing by students in grades K - 8 and to give these young authors the opportunity to meet with published authors and hear about the writing/publishing process.  Jan Dundon, Children's Coordinator at Anderson's Bookshop, was kind enough to ask me to participate!  The conference was held in Normal, IL, on the Illinois State University campus where my son attends.

I drove down there on Friday afternoon with three writer-friends, Suzanne Slade, Barb Rosenstock and Hilary Wagner.
Hilary, Suzanne, Me, Barb
That night, we attended a reception in the Bone Center Bookstore and had a question and answer session with students, parents and volunteers.  I was particularly impressed with the questions posed by the young authors!  I was happy to be seated next to Ruth Spiro so I could get to know her better.  She gave some really thoughtful answers to many of the questions!

The next morning, we met again at the Bone Center where the students and their parents attended an opening ceremony and the authors met with their volunteer escorts.  Then, each author was escorted to a classroom where they held their small group sessions.  I spoke to three groups of students for 30 minutes each.  The first group had 21 kindergartners, the second and third groups had 21 first graders each.

I read my book, 1 Zany Zoo, to each group; explained about Book Tour Alex (the kids kept referring to her as "your Barbie" :-) ; and the students showed me their books, which were so creative!  My favorite titles were "The Banana Who Wanted to be a Hot Dog",  "The Princess with the Broken Heals" and "The Middle Stinks - the Life of a Middle Child".  I asked him if it was a funny book and he gave an adamant "NO!"  The kids were adorable - I had so much fun!

After the small group sessions, we returned to the Bone Center for a delicious lunch.  We then went to different auditoriums for the Recognition of Young Authors & Closing Ceremony.  Here, I stood on stage and each group of students with whom I spoke, were called up to the stage.  Their group leaders read their names, the names of their books and then I gave them each child a copy of my book.  It was awesome!
After the Closing Ceremony, we returned to the Bone Center (again) and signed books for those who chose to buy them.  Then, Suzanne, Barb, Hilary and I said goodbye and thanks to Jan and made the drive home.

What an event!!  I don't think they ask the same authors two years in a row but I hope to be asked back in the future!

PS - The biggest lesson I learned that weekend - don't wear brand new shoes without socks to an event on a large college campus - ouch!!  Can you say blisters?   Also, don't wear a long, baggy shirt that makes you look grossly overweight or 9 months pregnant!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Setting The Scene With Arthur Levine

Last Saturday,  April 16th, I was co-coordinator of the first annual, SCBWI - Illinois Spring Thaw.  My partner in crime, Meg Flemming Lentz, and I are planning to make this an annual event.  The SCBWI Regional coordinators had already lined up Arthur Levine and they guided us through the process of hosting a conference.
Meg Fleming Lentz, Arthur Levine, me, Lisa Bierman

For those of you who don't know, Arthur Levine is the vice-president of Scholastic inc. and publisher of Arthur A. Levine Books, an imprint of Scholastic Books.   Arthur A. Levine Books published a series of books you may have heard of - Harry Potter!   Arthur is also an author of books for children.  His latest book, Monday Is One Day, was released this month.

Back to the event . . . We decided to title the event, Setting the Scene with Arthur Levine so people would pronounce his name correctly (rhyme Levine with scene).  People sometimes rhyme it with 'mine' or 'pin', so we thought we'd help them out a bit.  I'm sure it gets annoying having people mispronounce your name all the time. Growing up, people often pronounced my last name, Grusin, as 'gruesome'.  I think they did it accidentally :-)

The day went beautifully!  We had 129 attendees, with a good mix of published and non-published authors and illustrators and all genres in children's literature were represented.  Arthur spoke to the group about the current state of publishing and, by the end of his talk, he was pretty optimistic!  

Next, he spoke about the process of submitting, publishing and marketing picture books, using his latest book as an example.  He said his book had three different editors and it took seven years to hit the shelves!   

He followed up this talk with a fantastic Q & A session!  Luckily, they were running late with the lunches, so we were able to pick Arthur's brain for an extra ten minutes.

After lunch, we had a First Pages session.  Children's author, and voice over pro, Laura Ripes, read first pages submitted by attendees and Arthur gave instantaneous feedback - not an easy task.  There was a good mix of picture book, middle grade and young adult stories.  

Arthur found a common thread in each story - "info dump" as he coined it.  Info dump is when there's too much set-up at the beginning of the story.  Arthur said you need to trust that your reader will get that information through the characters words and actions.  One example was a story about a bird who is afraid of heights.  The author stated that in the first few sentences.  Arthur pointed out that she didn't need to put in that fact because the reader would learn it by observing Bird trying to get out of going to high places. 

After the First Pages, we gave out some door prizes, mixed and mingled a bit and Arthur signed books (The Magic Tree Bookstore sold them there).  Then it was over and there was nothing left to do but clean up.  We had a little bit of "after the wedding blues" but we were also relieved it was over and had gone so smoothly!

Arthur and me with Book Tour Alex

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Procrastination Cinquain

One thing I've learned about myself, time and time again, is that I have a hard time posting every day.  That's why I should never start something like a poem-a-day to celebrate Poetry Month.  One of these days I'll remember not to promise to blog daily!  

So, it's been a couple of days and I have a new kind of poem to write - a cinquain.  I've never written one before but it looks like fun.  Here are the rules for cinquain writing:

A cinquain is a five line poem.
Line 1: One word (subject or noun)
Line 2: Two words (adjectives that describe line 1)
Line 3: Three words (action verbs that relate to line 1)
Line 4: Four words (feelings or a complete sentence that relates to line 1)
Line 5: One word (synonym of line 1 or a word that sums it up)

Here's my first attempt at a cinquain.

Troublesome, habitual
Waiting, delaying, rushing
Putting off, chasing deadlines

Monday, April 11, 2011


Today's poem is a verbal collage entitled "Love".  It's the first time I've made one and it was fun and easy.  Here's how you can make your own:

1 - Pick a topic and, in a word processing program,  make a list of words you want to include.
2 - Determine the importance of each word and you can adjust the size accordingly.  If you type a word 5 times it makes it very big; 4 times makes it big; 3 times makes it smaller; 2 times makes it even smaller; 1 time makes it the smallest.
3 - Now, copy your text and paste it into Wordle.
4 - You can change the color, font and layout until you're happy with how it looks.
5 - You can't save your collage on Wordle so you'll need to take a snapshot of it and save it that way.

It's as easy as that!  Give it a try!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Saturday Night Clerihew

Today's poem is a Clerihew - a light verse, usually consisting of two couplets of uneven length 
and irregular meter, the first line usually containing the name of a well-known person.  The Clerihew was invented by Edmund Clerihew Bentley (1875 - 1956), an English writer, at the age of 16.

My son, Sean
Is almost gone,
He's moving soon,
I think in June :-(

My son, Brian
Is always tryin'
He'll work it out
Without a doubt!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Skeltonic Verse

In researching different forms of poetry, I came across Skeltonic Verse, named after English Poet, John Skelton (1460-1529).  Skelton had tutored King Henry the Eighth when he was a prince and later spent time in prison, was censured by the church and seemed to have a lot of fun!  The rules of Skeltonic Verse are simple:  
  • Keep the line lengths between three and six words
  • Every end word rhymes with the previous, until you start a new set of rhymes
  • Keep the same rhyme until it starts to lose its energy or impact
  • The poem should be full of energy and fun
Here's my Skeltonic Verse:

The weekend's here
I shout and cheer   
Until I hear
A voice so clear
From in the yard
the words were hard
So I was jarred
My plans were marred
There on the stoop
With bag and scoop
He made me droop
"Let's pick up poop!"

Thursday, April 7, 2011

I forgot


I Forgot

I can't believe I almost forgot,

to write another poem.

I don't know where my memory went,

It must still be at home.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Sausage Poem

Today's poem is a Sausage Poem - a string of words which are "linked" with the same letters/sounds at the endings and beginnings of words.  An extra challenge is to go full circle and have the last letter of the sentence match the first letter.  It's a lot harder than it sounds!  Here's my meager attempt.  Before you judge me - give it a try yourself!

Spring goes slowly yet time elapses.
Summer rain nurturing growing greens.
Fall leaves swirl like caustic kids.
Winter rains snow over rustic cabins.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

My Mea Culpa

My Mea Culpa
I had the best intentions
I really meant to do it
I hoped to write a poem a day
and on day two - I blew it!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

April is Poetry Month - DUH!

What kind of habitual rhymer forgets poetry month?  I'm going to use being in Las Vegas when April began as my excuse.  It's lame - I know!  In honor of Poetry Month, I'll post a new poem everyday - starting today.  I'll also include fun poem-writing ideas I've found in various places.  So, my poem for April 3rd is called a Book Spine Poem.  April Halprin Wayland mentioned it in today's blog post at Teaching Authors.  She got the idea from Travis Jonker, an elementary school librarian and he wrote about it on the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) blog.  I copied this off the blog: 

How do you create your own?  Here are my tips for kids and teens:
1. Check out last year’s book spine poem gallery for inspiration.
2. Once you’re in the library, start looking at titles to see what strikes you. Arrange and rearrange in your head. The best part of this type of poetry is the fact that you don’t know where you’ll end up.
3. Have a pencil and paper with you to write down titles that stand out – you can go back to them later.
4. Don’t be afraid to use the library catalog to search for titles with exact words or phrases that you want.

As promised, here's a book spine poem I wrote tonight:

What am I doing here
Lost in the cosmos?
Beginning to see the light
With a little help from my friends - 

Give it a try and, when you do, post it here for others to read!  

Happy Poetry Month!!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Radio Disney at Kidgits Book Blast

On March 5th, I participated in the Kidgits Book Blast, hosted by Radio Disney, at Orland Square Mall in Orland Park.

They had a great turnout!

Fellow Author, Laura Crawford and I each read our books and sold and signed them.

      It was a lot of fun!  

Anderson's 9th Annual Children's Literature Breakfast

On February 19th, I attended Anderson's Annual Children's Literature Breakfast for the third year in a row.  This year was different, though, because I was invited to be a visiting Illinois Author.  As a visiting author, I began the breakfast at my assigned table and I spoke with the other attendees about my book, the Cheerios contest, writing for children and I explained why I had Book Tour Alex with me.  

There were four guest speakers and, between each of their presentations, the other visiting authors and I moved to the next table and spoke with those attendees.  

The first guest speaker, Trent Reedy, wrote the book, Words in the Dust.  It's a story about an Afghan girl, loosely based on his experiences in Afghanistan.  It was very moving.  

Here's a picture of me and two young men at my second table.

The second speaker was Tim Green, the author of The Big Time: A Football Genius Novel.  Tim was an NFL player and has since earned his law degree.  As if that wasn't enough, he's also written several books for adults and middle school readers.  And did I mention, he's also handsome and funny?  What a loser!

My friends and third table mates, Kelly Polark and Laura Ripes.

The third speaker was the amazing illustrator, Mark Teague, who showed us his process of illustrating his latest book Firehouse!  He also illustrated a director's chair that one lucky winner took home - it wasn't me :-( 

The fourth speaker was Kathryn Lasky, author of Shadow Wolf, one of many books about animals.  Ms. Lasky shared a secret with us - even though she often writes about animals, she's not a big fan!

The final speaker was Weird Al Yankovich, who answered pre-submitted questions from the audience and discussed his latest book, When I Grow Up.

In addition to all this, they sold the visiting Illinois authors' books in another room.  I believe I sold one book - to the two cute boys at my table.  Alex and I had fun posing with the stack of 1 Zany Zoo.

Any authors, teachers, librarians and children's book lovers should consider attending next year!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Catching Up

I can't believe it's been two months since I've posted!  Really, I can believe it - thinking about how busy I've been, juggling work, writing/writing events and family & friends.

Work:  Everyone knows how much financial trouble all the schools are in - it's tragic!  As lead teacher of our Hearing Itinerant Program, I need to determine the number of teachers we'll need for the upcoming school year, and it's not always possible to stretch the numbers far enough to avoid cuts.  Because of circumstances beyond my control, our student numbers are down, which means we may not need all the teachers we have.  It's been a long couple of months working on the numbers "creatively" to stretch them as much as I can to avoid losing a teacher.  No decisions have been made yet, but I'm afraid it's not going to be good.

When I'm not lead teacher, I work with students at Stevenson High School and Hawthorn School District.  In the past two months, I've had eight intake meetings (IEP meetings for eighth grade students who will be my students next year at SHS).  I've also had seven other IEP meetings.  Thank goodness for electronic IEPs - at least we're saving some trees!  I've also attended two computer workshops and a teacher's conference.

Writing:  I've been revising, revising, revising my story in prose, Eb & Flo.  I think I may have found the missing "something" I've been trying to pinpoint.  We'll see what my sister (and best editor) thinks!
Writing events: That'll be a separate post.

Family:  My mom has been going through some health issues with arthritis and carpel tunnel surgery.  I'm happy to say, she's doing really well now - she's an amazingly strong person!  I've been able to spend more time with her and my other family members, which has been wonderful!  Sean's still living at home :-)  but not for long :-( and Brian came home for spring break, plus I got to see him at ISU this weekend!

Friends:  While I had to back out on a couple of events, I managed to get together with friends from the neighborhood, college, high school (thanks Facebook), work, and SCBWI.

Wow, I was busier than I thought!  I'm tired just writing it down :-)

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Save Everything! (and the Picture Book.)

I want to tell you about a great new blog - Save Everything! (and the Picture Book), Started by Bridget Heos, author of the upcoming book What to Expect When You're Expecting Larvae: a Guide for Insect Parents (and Curious Children), illustrated by Stephane Jorisch (Lerner/Millbrook, Spring 2011). 

The goal of this year-long promotion is to introduce children to new picture books.  Here's how it works:  Each month, Bridget will highlight 10 new picture books centered on a theme.  Kids who send in a review (in the form of a paragraph, drawing, video, etc.) for one of the books, will be entered to win book-related prizes. Teachers can also win prizes for their classrooms by submitting multiple student book reviews.

Here's what teachers need to do:

   1. Read picture books to your students.
   2. Have them write reviews.
   3. Send the reviews in to be entered to win picture books and other bookish prizes for your 

Each month, there will be a new theme, new list, and new prizes, so be sure to follow along on the blog.

To my author friends, here's a list of monthly topics.  If your book fits one of the topics, let Bridget know and your book may be included in that months book reviews.
January: Save the World (and the Picture Book)
Books with environmental or world themes

February: Save the Sweets (and the Sweet Picture Books)
Books about sweets things like cupcakes and sweet-ish things like fuzzy animals

March: Save the Bookworms (and the Picture Books They Eat)
Books about books…and insects

April: Save the Laughing Children (and the Picture Book)
Funny books

May: Save the Pink Princesses (and the Tomboys)
Books about princesses and other girl power themes

June: Save America’s Favorite Pastime (and America’s Favorite Picture Books)
Baseball books

July: Save the Polar Bears (and the Teddy Bears)
Books featuring bears

August: Save the Summer Vacation (and the Picture Books)
Books about summer and books about school

September: Save the Koalas (and the Marsupial Picture Books)
Books about marsupials

October: Save the Monsters (and the Picture Books)
Books about monsters—scary, funny, or cute

November: Save the Heroes (Real and Pretend)
Books about military, police, firefighters, superheroes, and other heroes

December: Save the Snow Angels (and the Picture Books) Books featuring snow or angels (This includes holiday books if they have snow.)