Monday, November 6, 2017

You Had Me at "Hello": Therapy Dogs and Reading

Who doesn't love a good dog story? And who doesn't love "hello" more than "goodbye"? That makes Hello Goodbye Dog by Maria Gianferrari, illustrated by Patrice Barton, a winner! And I was a winner of this book, via an online entry.

Moose, Zara's beloved dog, loves "hello"--"Hello was a ride in the car...Hello was having a book and someone to read it to you...Hello smelled like homemade cookies...." So when Moose insists on running away from home to join Zara at school, you can imagine the chaos that caused. Barton's illustrations capture all the messy antics. Well, we all know that dogs don't belong at school--or do they? Moose was miserable and hated the word "goodbye," which Gianferrari defines as poetically as she defined "hello." Fortunately, Zara has an idea she can act upon, and before long, Moose becomes a therapy dog who comes to school and lets kids read to him. That made everyone happy, well summed up in Barton's final cozy illustration.

An author note tells more about therapy dogs as non-judgmental listeners. As Gianferri says, "It's the perfect combination: tales and tails!"

Thank you, Maria, for this wonderful story and the gift of this book!

Another recently published book about a therapy dog is Madeline Finn and the Library Dogwritten and illustrated by Lisa Papp. For Madeline Finn, reading is hard, and the teacher is always telling her to read. Reading out loud is even harder and embarrassing. Ugh. Madeline tries. She sets a goal to achieve a gold star, but that result is not forthcoming. And then--at a trip to the public library, Madeline is introduced to Bonnie, a big white dog. Madeline reads to her and with Bonnie's calm presence, Madeline gains confidence and reading fluency. Madeline gets her gold star at school and goes to the library to give it to Bonnie, who had been absent the week before. Papp ends the book with a lovely surprise and more opportunities for Madeline's reading. The soft, warm illustrations support the story and the tone of the book. I especially like that Madeline's reading progress was not an overnight success, but a process.

Finally, please click this link and meet Roxie, one of the friendly Tail Waggin Tutors therapy dogs that visits the library where I work and lets kids read to her. Watching kids interact with Roxie, whether they read to her or not, is always fun. They usually start out hesitant, especially if the child is much smaller than the dog. But when Roxie seems to like their attention, they are happy--and so is Roxie.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Halloweensie Fun

Ladies and Gentlemen!

The contest is fun and offers an opportunity to win great prizes. You, too, can enter--IF YOU DARE!
Basic Rules: Write a 100 word Halloween story appropriate for children using the words candy, monster, and shadow. Full info on the contest link above. MUST be posted by midnight 10/31.

So--here goes, folks. We all know this is not great literature, but I tried. Did you?

The Monster’s Regret

The monster crept
Behind the kids,
As they went trick or treating.
The monster leapt
Upon a bag
Of candy corn for eating.
The children wept
For loss of sweets
And fear of monster beatings.
The monster swept
Away a tear
Of sorrow that’s defeating.
The monster stepped
Up to the kids,
His candy swipe deleting.
The monster kept
No candy corn.
To keep it would be cheating.
The monster slept
Quite well that night
In shadows and clean sheeting.

Happy Halloweening!

Monday, October 16, 2017

Curiosity & Electric Ideas!

Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it's from curiosity that we learn, invent, discover, and create.

From this premise and author Tory Christie's passion to encourage young people--especially girls--to explore science, The Curious McCarthy four-book set was born. 

Ten-year-old Curious, whose real name is Curie (after Marie, the scientist), is one of seven kids with an English teacher mom and an engineer dad. The family and other characters are introduced with humor in illustrations by Mina Price at the beginning of the books. 

In Curious McCarthy's Electric Ideas, the electricity goes off at the McCarthy home, leading Curious to be, well, curious, about electricity. Where does it come from? How does it work? She develops a hypothesis and tries to beat her trouble-maker little brother, John Glenn, in figuring it out. She also tries to beat a schoolmate in the annual arm wrestling championship. You'll have to read it to find out what happens.

This is a fiction book, yet the author includes footnotes. You say you skip those? Oh, don't! These are full of humor and tangential information. Be careful as you read, though, or you might learn something about electricity. Kids will love the school and family situations and great humor throughout.

Each book can stand alone, but contains the same family of characters. Other books in the set:

 Author Tory Christie, pen name of Victoria Christensen and Dakotas-Society of Children's Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) member agreed to answer a few questions.

Jane: What would you like our readers to know?

Tory: I think science should be fun and I hope that the Curious McCarthy books reflect that. I'd love to see more kids (and adults) approach the world with a sense of curiosity and wonder. 

Jane: I love Curious McCarthy’s Electric Ideas and look forward to reading the other 3 titles in this set!  Which one did you write first and what was the spark (pun intended) for the characters and plot?

Tory: Thank you so much for the feedback. I hope you love the other three titles just as much! I wrote the Power of Observation first. It was based on the true story of when I went to a new school. I don't want this to be a spoiler, so I won't spill the beans on what happens in that first book. You'll just have to read the story! Every book is loosely based on true events and the characters are based on my family. Oh ... wait ... the books are fiction ... really. Let's just say that my childhood and my large family gave me a lot of inspiration for the characters in the Curious McCarthy books. As for the plot, that is based on my quest to become a real scientist, even though I didn't have any science role models as a kid.

Jane: Usually when an author turns a manuscript in to an editor, it takes a year or more before it’s actually ready for publication. Your story is much different! Tell us about it.

Tory: Curious McCarthy started out as a picture book in the spring of 2016, believe it or not. I sent it to an agent who loved the voice, but thought it was better material for a chapter book. So, I spent a few weeks revising. In June of 2016, I brought the book to a SCBWI in Fargo to have it critiqued by editor Julie Gassman of Capstone Publishing. She introduced herself as the youngest in a family of nine, and I knew right then that she would "get" the humor of being part of a large family. She asked for the full manuscript right away. I wrote Family Chemistry and Electric Ideas as I waited for an answer. Before I knew it, I had a four book contract and spent much of the fall of 2016 working with Julie and Capstone's team on editing the first three books and writing the fourth, Not-So-Perfect Pitch.

Jane: Are you working on more science-related books? What should we watch for from you?

Tory: Right now I am working on two children's non-fiction books that are more closely related to my career as a scientist. The first is on Renewable Energy and the second is called Where's the Water? They should be published some time this spring.

Jane: Are you more like Curious McCarthy or like John Glenn? ;)

Tory: Really? John Glenn and I have nothing in common!

Jane: Hmm...I'm curious about that, Tory. I'll have to read the other books and get to know you better to find out if you're telling the truth! I'll watch for your other books, too! Thanks for the interview!

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Nothing Gold Can Stay: Happy Autumn!

We spent the second week of September exploring the Theodore Roosevelt National Park (also knows as the North Dakota Badlands), where we saw our first real glimpses of leaves changing color. What a glorious time to be there!

I love fall--the beauty of the variety of colors, the crisp morning air and warm days. But I am all too aware of impending winter, and the constant, slow change of nature. As I walk among the changing leaves, I think of Robert Frost's poem, "Nothing Gold Can Stay."

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.

Please read the rest here. Go ahead, click. It's short.

Here's Frost himself reciting it:

and from me, with apologies to Frost,

Make the most of every day,
Grab what's golden on the way,
Knowing that it cannot stay,
Be thankful for the moment.

Happy Fall!

Friday, September 22, 2017

Goodbye Summer!

On this first day of fall, I want to share a few summer tidbits and revisit connections to a couple of books.

We had some great family times, including our almost-five-year-old granddaughter's first bike rides. She invited us to her house to watch her ride because the video on her mom's phone just wasn't enough.

Charles Ghigna covered this in his forth-coming book First Times. I blogged about that book here.
"The first time I help my mother go shopping.
The first time I ride my bike without stopping."

It was a proud time for all of us, and we were pleased to see our granddaughter's grit as she fell and got up again, learning to master the turns.

Another highlight was meeting Andrea Page, author of Sioux Code Talkers of World War II, and hearing her presentation based on her book. She packed our library meeting room, and people even came from other towns to learn more about this important topic. I blogged about the book here.

I'm thankful that Andrea and the family who traveled with her from Rochester, NY, had a great time in my state. You can see her remarks here, here, here, and here. And our tourism bureau did not pay her for any of these glowing reports!

What were some of your great times this summer? Bye, summer, and hello, fall!

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Roads, Road Trips, and The Road that Trucks Built

I live in a part of the country that has two seasons--winter and road construction. Never was I more aware of this than on a recent long weekend on the road with cones, detours, and traffic backed up all along the way. 

Were we irritated and impatient? Of course! We are human, after all. But thinking about this new picture book, The Road That Trucks Built, made me appreciate the road-building process. Author Susanna Leonard Hill built this story using the structure of  "The House that Jack Built," with repetition for kids to call out. Hill features each equipment type and in rhyming text tells what each one does, making a book to be read again and again. Adding to the fun are Erica Sirotich's illustrations of the heavy equipment with googly eyes that kids will love. The cover begs to be touched. It has a spinner showing the types of trucks in the book going 'round and 'round like a tire.

Hear more about the book from Susanna herself on the GROG (Group Blog) where I won my copy. Thanks, Susanna & GROG administrators! 

The next time you're stuck in the cone zone, think about all the types of trucks it takes to "make way for the road that trucks built"!

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Sioux Code Talkers of World War II by Author Andrea Page

I'm excited to bring you news about this debut book by Andrea Page. I was fortunate to win it in an online contest. As soon as I heard of it, I realized its importance to the people of my state. We've heard about code talkers from other Native American tribes, but not about the people who live where I do. That said, anyone interested in WWII or Native American issues will find this book of interest. 

Author Andrea Page, a relative of Sioux Code Talker Sioux John Bear King, sets the stage by giving an account of Sioux culture and history. She goes on to tell how Sioux men chosen to be code talkers were part of the US Army's efforts in winning battles in WWII's Pacific Theater. Her excellent writing lets the reader see the irony of a government that once punished the Sioux for speaking their language now using that language to win a war. Page's thorough research includes photos and transcripts of some of the messages Sioux Code Talkers sent and received. Complete with summary bio information about each of the featured Code Talkers, a bibliography, and index, this book adds new material to the WWII canon. Written as juvenile nonfiction, this book would appeal to adults as well as young people.

I was especially impressed to learn that this book was 2 decades in the making, from the time she learned about John King Bear's service through years of primary document research and interviews to the writing itself. Ta da! At last, a book was born!

Hear more about the writing of the book from Andrea and her mother:

Andrea is making a trip back to "Siouxland" that includes a talk at Siouxland Libraries:
If you're in the area, come out and meet Andrea!

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

First Times by Charles Ghigna

There's a first time for everything, so the saying goes! For example, this is the first time a publisher has sent me an unsolicited Advanced Reader Copy. I was elated because I so admire Charles Ghigna's work.

His upcoming book, First Times, illustrated by Lori Joy Smith, celebrates the many firsts that preschool children experience. The rhyming text makes reading aloud fun, and the cartoonish illustrations are just right for the preschool set. Even the font design helps tell the story. This is a happy book, people!

It begins:
First times are fun times!
   From summer to spring.
My first slide down the slide
   My first swing on the swing.

I read this book to my 4-year-old granddaughter. We talked about her "firsts" as we went along, including sliding, swinging, personal care, getting dressed, going shopping. These are everyday things that we grownups take for granted, but shouldn't. Some of these firsts she remembered, some she didn't, and some she still looks forward to. For example, she's always liked books, but she doesn't remember this one:

First Times is a wonderful family book about growing up and being proud of every achievement.  I highly recommend it. Orca Book Publishers will release it in late October, but you can preorder from the publisher or any bookseller.

Charles is also known as Father Goose, a nickname first given to him by the children he visits at schools. He says he writes in a "tree house," which is really the attic of his home.
Here's a little more about Charles from Father Goose himself: 

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Long May She Wave: Happy Independence Day!

Sure, we've all heard of Betsy Ross, but did you know that a girl named Caroline helped sew the flag that flew over Fort McHenry, the flag that Francis Scott Key wrote about in his poem, "The Star-Spangled Banner"? 

Using phrases from the poem that became the United States' national anthem, author Kristen Fulton  tells readers about this little-known part of history. This picture book and its design is great for all ages. Young children can grasp the ideas from the text in big font and the pictures, block prints by Holly Berry that emphasize the flag . Older children will appreciate all of the book's text and understand the importance of a little girl in history. (And maybe be inspired by that.) Still older readers will appreciate this new look into history and the information Fulton provides in her Author's Note in the back of the book.

Fulton's writing captures the suspense and importance of the battle from Caroline's point of view. This is an especially wonderful book for Flag Day (June 14) or the 4th of July. 

Take a peek inside the book by viewing the video.

Thank you, Caroline, and thank you, Kristen and Holly for this look into history. Indeed, long may she wave!  

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Promise of Trees

The Promise is an amazing first-person fable by nature writer Nicola Davies about the importance of keeping a promise and how having a positive purpose can change one's life. The illustrations by Laura Carlin enhance the text, as they change from black and white to color as the main character's promise is fulfilled. Change does not happen overnight; patience is required. The underlying message of "if you don't like it, change it" empowers readers of all ages, and encourages all of us to leave a positive legacy. 

My favorite line from the book: "I held a forest in my arms, and my heart was changed." 

This picture book will be most appreciated by older children through adults. In fact, it is on the reading list for my church women's reading program in the Social Action category.

(photo taken at McCrory Gardens in Brookings, SD)

This tale of hope and environmentalism was inspired by Jean Giono's 1953 story, L’homme qui plantait des arbres, (The Man Who Planted Trees.)  I don't read French, but I have seen the video and recommend it to you. 

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Bully Behavior: National Poetry Month

Carmen Graber teaches poetry to her 8th graders, and they share their poems aloud. She writes and shares along with her students. This one stunned them. You'll see why.

Pinball (for my 8th grade students) 
by Carmen Graber

Words shoot out of mouths
Like a pinball launching from the starting chute.
The words ricochet off the hallway walls
Bruising and battering unsuspecting students.
Points can be scored for claiming
“She is my friend”
“I am just joking and having fun”
“He doesn’t mind”
You score extra points
If you light up
A student’s fear and
Make him or her feel insecure.
Be careful though,
You don’t want to cause the game to tilt!
You are racking up the points;
But then the teacher comes out
With a look of scorn
And tells you
“knock it off-get to class”
Your fun is destroyed-
This round is finished.
But not to fret.
Another round is waiting in the chute.
This time when you launch,
The rules have changed.
The flippers turn into hands
Which slap the back of someone’s neck.
It’s a game you say.
No harm done.
But the marks are there
This time more evident than the words
But both are destructive.
There are pieces of students
Splattered on the walls
Trampled under foot,
Lost in the commotion.
Until that teacher comes over again
“keep your hands and your words to yourself”
And this time you hear
“game over”
But only till the game resets

And you start another round.

Here are some anti-bullying resources: Stop Bullying Stomp Out Bullying, and the program used in our local schools, Olweus. And a list of books for kids with an anti-bullying theme.

Bullying is not a game. Pinball is!

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Teddy Bear Loyalty: National Poetry Month

Many children have toys or blankets that give them comfort and act as a friend when there's no one else around. I had a Raggedy Ann that I wore to shreds. Here's a poem from Carmen Graber, reminiscing about her teddy bear.

Random Thoughts of Teddy

Teddy was my best friend
Not an original name for a teddy bear
But, hey
I was only 3 years old.
Keeper of my secrets,
Sharerer of my tea
at afternoon tea parties.
Protector of my nights
when shadows turn frightening.
Then we both had to go to the hospital:
Teddy to get more stuffing in his neck
And to fix his nose where I bit him.
Me to have my eyes fixed-
No, not to get my tonsils taken out like everyone else.
Patches over both eyes,
Sleeping in a bed with sides up like a crib.
I couldn’t see it,
But I heard the rasp of the railing
As it was pulled upward until it clicked.
And the doctor saying
“it won’t hurt”
As he ripped the patches off.
Kicked him in the shin.
That will teach him to tell a lie.
Grandma Lil gave me a white cat;
Not a real one-mom would never allow that.
Didn’t need Teddy as much when I got home.
He got stuck between the wall and the bed,
His new stuffing all scrunched up funny.
Then we moved to a new house.
Where was Teddy?

Did he get packed?
I have read stories about dogs that walk for miles
Just to find their owners.
Could Teddy do that too?
Not to worry-Teddy is here.
Best friends again.

Went to visit Grandma Lil
Took Teddy and the white cat
When we got home, only the white cat was in my bag.
Grandma Lil said not to worry
Teddy was with her
She would mail him to me.
How would he breathe?
Would she put holes in the box?
Would he be afraid in the dark?
Finally he arrived-at the big stone building-
The box had my name on it.
Never so happy to see my best friend Teddy.
I will never let you out of my sight again.
Then came junior high
Roller skates, boys, new friends.
Don’t know when Teddy got lost.
Asked my mom-she didn't know-
"Look in the closet in the basement".
Got distracted-forgot to look.
Went to college,
Got a job and place of my own.
I haven’t thought about Teddy for a long, long time.

Now I am old and I wish Teddy was here.

What toy do you remember fondly? What memories does that conjure up? Do you still have that toy? Please share in the comments below.

Carmen's poem reminded me of this famous rhyme for kids:

Friday, April 28, 2017

Exploring Fragile: National Poetry Month

Most of us have times in our lives when we feel fragile. Some of those are more serious and life-altering than others. Today I'm pleased to introduce Carmen Graber, 8th grade language arts teacher and poet.


“easily broken, shattered, or damaged”
never would I have used this word
in conjunction with me or my life.
But one phone call
one word - cancer-
broke my soul
shattered my reality
damaged my world.
I collapse;
my breath stolen from me.
Gasps of fear
bursting colors of emotions
explosions of words and questions.
I feel broken, shattered and damaged:
How can I go on?
Can I go on?
How can I face others?
How can I let them see me as fragile?
A whisper of air
A tremor of strength
A flow of love.
The ultimate showing of trust-
allow those you love to see you vulnerable - fragile.
A hug, a hand, a word-
not from pity,
but from love, concern, and hope.
I am not alone.
I am not broken.
I am not shattered.
I am not damaged.
Together, we are stronger than cancer!

~carmen graber

How would you define "fragile" for yourself? How has poetry or art helped you overcome your fragility? Feel free to leave a comment for Carmen below and share this poem with anyone who is feeling fragile. Thank you, Carmen, for allowing me to post your powerful poem.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Poem in Your Pocket Day: National Poetry Month

Today's the day! Poem in Your Pocket Day! If you need one, here is the original by Beatrice Schenk de Regniers, ready to cut out and put in your pocket and hand to someone who needs one. I have participated and been surprised at how happy people have been to receive a poem for their pockets! 

I hope you enjoyed Emily Arrow's "Poem in Your Pocket" video above. I got to meet her last fall at the Plum Creek Children's Literacy Festival, and she is just as much fun as you would expect. She signed my copy of her first CD, and she recently released "Storytime Singalong, V.2."

What poem is in your pocket today? Did you share it with someone? What was the reaction? Let me know in the comments below.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Of Lightning Bugs and Children: National Poetry Month

Today's poem by Nancy Keck is written in an elegant form, the pantoum. Writing one requires some planning, as it has a set pattern. "The modern pantoum is a poem of any length, composed of four-line stanzas in which the second and fourth lines of each stanza serve as the first and third lines of the next stanza. The last line of a pantoum is often the same as the first," says, the site of the Academy of American Poets. Learn more about pantoums here. Enjoy Nancy's poem, and try writing one yourself!


My grandchildren are lights
Little lightning bugs flashing in the dark
Their futures ahead of them
Glowing with possibility.
May each one realize the gifts they have been given,
In the world today so easily can one’s light be quenched.
May each of my grandchildren dance in the light of their passions,
And may they always feel beloved.

Little lightning bugs flashing in the dark
May each one realize the gifts they have been given.
Glowing with possibility
In the world today so easily can one’s light be quenched.
May each of my grandchildren dance in the light of their passions
Their futures ahead of them,
And may they always feel beloved.
My grandchildren are lights.
Nancy E, Keck

March 27, 2017

What brings light to your world? If you're inclined, leave a comment below. Before you go, take in the beauty of this firefly video.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Memory, Dementia, and Poetry: National Poetry Month

Poetry and song can reflect the blossom of youth. I'm bringing back Elizabeth Healy for today's post. If you know elderly people, this poem may resonate with you.


I watched him today
during the trivia time.
He couldn't answer--
No memory for details,
But then he went to the hymn sing.
I watched him sing along,
marveling at what he knew.
Those wonderful words of life
bringing amazing grace.
He goes to the garden alone
for a sweet hour of prayer,
and Jesus walks with him
and he talks with him.
Though in his chair
still, he is standing
on the promises of God.
In spite of everything
in his heart there rings a melody.

                   ~Elizabeth Healy

When my mom was in a nursing home, many residents with memory loss sang along to every word at hymn sings or sang along with entertainers who sang "the old songs." What is learned early seems to stick. That gives us ways to connect with people who find difficulty in remembering the now. It also gives them peace and comfort, as they remember their faith and their true, younger selves.

I'd like to call attention to Mind's Eye Poetry, which has the mission of using poetry as dementia therapy. Founder Molly Middleton Meyer says, "Through the use of poetry facilitation, I help my poet/patients access memories and imagination. I turn those memories and imaginings into poems using their ideas, phrases, words, and even non-verbal cues." See sample poems here.

Have you used poetry in this way? How does poetry comfort you? Please leave a comment below.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Contentment, Earth Day: National Poetry Month

Once again, I'm calling on Nancy Keck. This time, she's helping us celebrate Earth Day.

What will you do to treasure life today? What is contentment to you? Leave a comment below if you like, and here's to Earth, "our island home." 

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Feast of Life: National Poetry Month

Today's guest poet is Nancy Keck from Colorado. She is a retired Developmental Reading faculty at Western Colorado Community College, has written poetry for years, and belongs to Women Writing for a Change in Western Colorado.

   Feast on My Life

I want to feast on my life, to savor each of the many blessings that fill it now.
            The orange scented blessings of our three daughters,
             mothers themselves, so beautiful and so brave!
             The salty scented blessings of the little ones, three two-year-olds in our blended family,
                 each one a tornado of energy
                 each one a unique gift of love.
And the two babies whose soft skin, like the flesh of a pear, guides us to caress them.
I want to feast on the surprise that is my new husband,
                 learning to trust again has been slow and difficult for me,
                 but he is constant.
      A gardener, he tastes of dirt and honey, tomatoes and chocolate.

I want to luxuriate in stroking the soft coats of my huskies and gaze into the gentle brown eyes of my
lab-mix, Murphy.
    My dogs are my dearest companions
                urging me out to walk along the Colorado River,
                they leap, run and play joyfully in the sunshine.
I want to feast on my life         
              on all its honeyed sweetness    
              and sour sadness
   for this savory banquet is all mine.                                     

                                                                                ~ Nancy E. Keck   April 2, 2012

Nancy's poem could be a response to Mary Oliver's "The Summer Day," which has the oft-quoted end lines: 
Tell me, what is it you plan to do 
with your one wild and precious life?

Readers, what do you feast on? Or how would you answer Oliver's question? Kindly leave a comment for Nancy below.